My wife April and I have four daughters. One of our highest priorities is ensuring that they and all women have equal opportunity and parity in society in terms of education, aspirations, employment opportunities, and equal pay. While this perspective informs our overall approach to our community and our government, we have also focused a portion of our efforts on the specific areas of concern such as promoting healthy and positive images of women in the media. April is Washington Director and a Member of the Board of Directors of Common Sense Media, a nonprofit dedicated to educating families and educators on digital literacy and media’s impact on children. In this capacity, she has become a leading voice nationally on the issue of how media “messages” to girls and has served as a member of the Healthy Media Commission for Positive Images of Girls and Women. Media messages can at times reinforce gender stereotypes and impact how girls develop their own sense of body image and personal identity. As our world raises a generation of girls to become tomorrow’s leaders, we all have a collective responsibility to empower youth with positive and healthy media that values women and their accomplishments. April also serves on the board of the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) – an organization focused on the rights and conditions of women in the developing world – and is a member of the Meridian International Center’s Council on Women’s Leadership.
Women’s rights are human rights. It is time to acknowledge that simple fact and use that framework as we address the pressing issues facing women today. We think of women’s rights in three dimensions: women’s fundamental rights, ensuring that women are equal in society, and the condition of woman in the developing world. Here are some of my priorities for women’s issues:
Women’s healthcare is arguably under attack. Republicans continue to fight to defund Planned Parenthood, a community health center, which would deny many low-income women access to vital cancer screenings and other forms of preventative and reproductive care. In Congress, I will defend Title X funding that provides women across the country with reproductive and preventative care.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) contains several provisions aimed at improving healthcare for women. Before enactment of the ACA, insurance companies frequently charged women higher premiums than men, simply because of their gender. Thankfully, this will be illegal in 2014 under the ACA. This is just one example of the many ways this landmark law will improve healthcare for women, and just one of the reasons I will defend the ACA in Congress. I also believe we can better navigate through enhanced dialogue the issues associated with religious freedom in the context of the Affordable Care Act.
We find it troubling that women in America are still paid only $0.77 for every dollar paid to their male counterparts for the same work in 2012. In a year, that can add up to a wage gap of over $10,000. In Maryland, the gap between average men and women working full-time is $10,179. As a group, women in Maryland working full time lose over $8 billion to the wage gap each year.
This is not just a women’s issue; it hurts women, families, and communities. It is not the society we aspire to be at any level. In Congress, I will fight for common sense measures like the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would make it harder to hide wage discrimination and empowers employees to fight for pay equity.
The importance of reproductive healthcare does not stop at the American border. Access to modern contraceptives helps women in developing countries plan their families, reduce illness and death from pregnancy complications, and can improve education and employment opportunities for women and their children. These benefits contribute to reductions in poverty and help spur economic growth.
The President’s most recent budget protects international family planning programs, and I commend his dedication to improving the lives of women across the globe, including rescinding the global gag rule as one of his first acts in office. As a Congressman, I will be a strong defender of international family planning and reproductive health programs.
Protecting women in the developing world is critical, particularly in countries ravaged by war, where we still see many human rights violations against women. Working in the international community to protect women, advance gender equality, and enable women-centric economic development for themselves and their communities is something I will make a centerpiece of my efforts in Congress.
On a personal level, April and I have long supported the work of Women for Women International. This international nonprofit works with socially-excluded women in countries where war and conflict have devastated lives and communities. The women who enroll in this one-year program are able to learn job skills and receive business training so they can earn a living. We have sponsored several women in these one year programs. April is also actively working with ICRW on stopping child marriage in developing countries; when children are married, they often stop being educated and perpetuate the cycle of poverty and lack of access to resources.
Violence Against Women
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) saves lives. Since its initial passage in 1994, the number of individuals killed by an intimate partner has decreased by 34% for women and 57% for men, and the rate of non-fatal intimate partner violence against women has decreased 53%.
Despite this success, every Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee recently voted against the bill to reauthorize VAWA. I strongly support the Senate’s reauthorization bill of VAWA, and I will fight for programs that help those affected by domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking.
The government shouldn’t be involved in women’s personal health care decisions. As a Catholic, the personal views my wife and I have about this issue are consistent with our Church. However, that doesn’t mean those views should be imposed on others.
From forced and invasive ultrasounds to so-called “personhood initiatives,” Republicans across the country have been mounting a full-on attack against women’s reproductive choice. I firmly believe that a woman’s right to choose is a fundamental human right and a personal decision between her and her healthcare provider, and I will be a strong voice for defending that right in Congress.