Our Plan to Support Women’s Rights — Sen. Jeff Jackson

Across the country, we’re seeing increasing politicization by anti-choice politicians of reproductive health.

The Violence Against Women Act has expired, reproductive rights are being attacked, and maternal mortality and morbidity rates are far too high.

As a result, one of the top questions we’re getting at our town halls is, “Given everything we’ve seen from state legislatures and from courts, how will you stand up for the rights of women in our country?”

Folks in our state are worried, and they deserve a clear sense of where I stand.

I believe government should be standing up for its citizens, not playing politics with people’s health.

That means that Congress must protect and expand access to safe reproductive services and improve health care.

Here’s where we should start:

  1. Pass the ERA

I’ve repeatedly sponsored the Equal Rights Amendment in the General Assembly and our failure to pass it has been one of the most frustrating issues I’ve seen in the state Senate. The U.S. House has passed an extension for the ERA to be ratified but it’s currently stuck in the U.S. Senate. I’ll add my name as a co-sponsor on Day One.

2. Pass the Women’s Health Protection Act

We don’t know if the Supreme Court will uphold the constitutional right established in Roe v. Wade when it hears a challenge beginning on December 1st. That’s why Congress has to codify the protections of Roe v. Wade into federal law and protect the right to abortion services by passing the Women’s Health Protection Act.

After it started pouring rain at our Durham event, Alison waited to ask me about my position on support for a woman’s right to choose. Her dedication speaks to how deeply this issue is felt by women across our state, and it showed me how important it is to be a clear voice of support in defense of reproductive freedom.

3. Support Pro-Choice Judges

As your U.S. Senator, I will support judges who are committed to protecting the constitutional right to reproductive freedom, which includes access to abortion services.

4. Reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act

The Violence Against Women Act was allowed to expire on February 15, 2019. The U.S. House has passed a reauthorization bill but it’s also stuck in the U.S. Senate.

The Senate should pass the reauthorization and include new provisions to protect LGBTQ individuals — particularly survivors of domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault — and ensure that the reauthorizations have grant funding available to end rape kit backlogs across the United States.

5. Create a National Paid Family and Medical Leave Program

The United States is the only industrialized country in the world that doesn’t offer paid family leave. 95% of the lowest wage workers in the U.S. — predominantly women and workers of color — lack any access to paid leave. And in North Carolina only one in eight workers have access to paid family leave.

Paid leave policies have enormous benefits for gender equity in the workforce and have been found to reduce the number of female employees leaving their jobs after giving birth by up to 50% after five years. Paid leave also helps level the playing field for small businesses, and can even increase their profits.

One of the most important pieces of the Build Back Better legislation is a national paid leave program that ensures workers could use 12 weeks for medical leave or to care for new children or family members. If paid leave is not included in the final Build Back Better bill, we must support the FAMILY Act which would also establish a national paid family and medical leave program.

6. Pass the EACH Act

The EACH Act would end abortion coverage bans under the federal government, most notably the Hyde Amendment. The Hyde Amendment bans abortion coverage through Medicaid which only serves to deny health care to people who need it and disproportionately impacts people of color and low-income individuals.

Under current law, the Department of Defense is prohibited from providing abortion services at military health care facilities and also prohibited from covering abortion services under TRICARE. This impacts service members, veterans, and their dependents, and the EACH Act would also end this ban.

7. Expand access to affordable birth control

Birth control should be accessible over the counter to anyone who wants it. We should pass legislation similar to the Affordability is Access Act introduced in 2019 by Rep. Pressley which would require private health insurance plans to cover over-the-counter contraceptives that are approved by the FDA, even without a prescription.

We should also expand access for people enrolled in TRICARE who currently don’t have access to contraception without cost-sharing by passing the Access to Contraception for Servicemembers and Dependents Act.

8. Pass the Momnibus Act

When it comes to maternal mortality, the US ranks 10th among 10 similarly wealthy countries. The CDC released a report last year that found that the maternal death rate of Black women is more than twice that of white women. That’s unacceptable.

The Momnibus Bill (spearheaded by Rep. Alma Adams in Charlotte) “would address the lack of providers in many majority-Black communities by funding the expansion and diversification of the maternal and birthing care workforce, including nurses, physician assistants, and doulas. The legislation would also provide funding for community-based organizations working on Black maternal health, among other provisions.”

9. Pass the Paycheck Fairness Act

In the past 25 years, the gender pay gap between men and women has decreased by only 8 cents. In 2020, women earned 84% of what men earned, and the gap grows for women of color. Black women earned $0.62 for every dollar men earned while Hispanic or Latino women earned $0.54. And of the millions of jobs that have been lost during the COVID-19 pandemic, a disproportionate number belonged to women, especially women of color,

Not only does this gap persist throughout women’s careers, but it also affects how much women are able to invest and save for retirement, with retired women on average receiving lower pensions and less in Social Security benefits than retired men.

We must pass the Paycheck Fairness Act which would address “wage discrimination on the basis of sex, which is defined to include pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics.” The bill has passed the House and is sitting stuck in the U.S. Senate.

10. Ensure a Fair and Safe Workplace

There is no right under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to workplace pregnancy accommodations. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would require employers to “reasonably accommodate workers and job applicants who need accommodations due to pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions.”

The House passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act in an overwhelming bipartisan 315–101 vote but it’s stuck in the Senate. We have to get this passed.

11. Pass the Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act of 2021

Almost one in four servicewomen in the United States report being sexually assaulted during their service. Congress has to make real changes. We need to move military sexual assault cases out of the chain of command to trained military prosecutors who are criminal justice attorneys with relevant expertise.

Sen. Gillibrand has done great work building this legislation, which has President Biden’s support. The Defense Department itself has made recommendations to remove commanders from prosecutorial decisions for sexual assault and related crimes.

This is a starting place that will be updated and added to as we hear your feedback and learn more as we travel the state. We’re working on separate detailed plans for large policies such as child care, and educational equity.

North Carolina State Senator