Across the country, women’s bodies are being used as political pawns. Bans on abortions and regulations of women’s bodies are nothing more than attempts to continue historical gender imbalances and inequity.
But things are different here in Washington. The Democratically controlled legislature has not only protected women’s reproductive rights, but has also taken steps to reduce gender discrimination.
- Equal Pay: Last year, I led the legislature in updating our laws regarding equal pay for the first time in 75 years with the passage of the Equal Pay Opportunity Act. This law prohibits retaliation against workers who discuss wages or seek advancement opportunities, will bring more transparency to wages and help to prevent discrimination in career opportunities based on gender. This year, we took an additional step and prohibited the use of salary history to determine pay at a new job. (Great job Rep. Laurie Dolan!)
- Reproductive Freedom: Democrats in our state have also led the charge in protecting the full range of reproductive options. It isn’t enough that people in our state have a legal right to make reproductive decisions; in order for these options to truly be available, they must be accessible regardless of income or where a person gets their health insurance. Last year we passed the Reproductive Parity Act, which reaffirms a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions and requires insurance plans offer full coverage for reproductive health. This year we built on that foundation with the Reproductive Health Care Access for All Act, which further secures access to reproductive health choices, regardless of gender identity and makes progress providing reproductive health services to underserved populations like immigrants and refugees and survivors of domestic violence. (Thanks Senator Emily Randall!)
- Paid Family and Sick Leave: Last year, we became one of only four states with paid leave for new parents, sick relatives or taking care of oneself when sick. No one should have to choose between putting food on the table and spending time to care for loved ones or get well. Taking unpaid leave to take on this care often falls to women and can be an insurmountable financial burden, creating instability, especially in low-income families. (Huge lift Rep June Robinson!)
- Women’s Commission: Last year, we created a Women’s Commission in the Governor’s Office to help examine ways legislative and private actions can improve women’s lives. (Thank you Senator Lisa Wellman)
- Improving Post-Natal Health: This year, we expanded Medicaid coverage to doulas, whose care during and after birth has been shown to save lives, especially in underserved and diverse communities. Additionally, we passed a bill guaranteeing employees the time and appropriate space to breastfeed or pump (Thanks to Rep. Beth Doglio)
- We also took many more actions that support women including extending that statute of limitations for rape; removing guns from domestic violence situations; and fully funding the backlog of untested rape kits.
These are just a few of the recent steps that the Washington Legislature has taken to support and stand behind women and provide bodily autonomy to every person. But Washington has a long history of fighting for equality. I am incredibly humbled to be able to stand on the shoulders of the activists who came before me and were successful in advocating for things like Initiative 120 in 1991 that guaranteed the right and access to an abortion in our state.
While Washington is a leader and stands in stark contrast to many of the states that are passing abortion bans right now, we still have a long ways to go before we reach our ultimate goal. I will continue to lead efforts to expand equality for women and to fight attempts to turn back the clock.