It's Time to Play Offense to Protect Women's Rights

By Lisa Wirthman of The Denver Post
POSTED:   07/20/2014 05:01:00 PM MDT

"It's not all about a woman's uterus. But having a uterus shouldn't prevent women from being able to participate equally in the workforce and support our families. It's time to play offense to make sure our daughters can do the same."         - Lisa Wirthman

(J. Scott Applewhite, The Associated Press)
In the war on women, women have been losing. Besieged with a wave of laws restricting reproductive freedoms, defeats on fair pay legislation, and the Supreme Court's recent decision to exempt employers from providing contraceptive coverage, women have been playing defense for too long.

Thankfully, that tide is turning, and Colorado is playing a leading role in a growing women's movement to take the offensive on protecting their reproductive rights.

Growing up with increasing access to education and jobs, today's generation of women took for granted many of the freedoms our mothers and grandmothers won for us in the 1960s and 70s. The Equal Pay Act in 1963 and the Civil Rights Act in 1964 banned gender discrimination in the workplace. But laws forbidding women to prevent conception (such as in Connecticut and seven other states) still made it difficult for women to enter the workforce.

Landmark Supreme Court decisions in 1965 and 1973 dramatically changed women's economic prospects by upholding their right to use birth control and have safe and legal abortions. With the ability to control their childbearing decisions, women flooded the workforce, and began to pursue advanced degrees that opened doors to careers in medicine, law, and business.

Today, women vote in greater numbers, control some 75 percent of household purchases, and hold the majority of college degrees. Individually, we exercise our rights to control our bodies, our families, and our careers. But collectively, we lack strength when those rights are threatened.

With just 19 percent of the seats in Congress, five governorships and a third of the Supreme Court, women still lack political power. That became painfully clear when conservatives swept the mid-term elections in 2010. Since then, state legislatures have passed over 200 anti-abortion restrictions — more than the previous 10 years combined.

Inundated by the wave of attacks, and underrepresented in the political arena, women began to play defense by staging protests on the steps of statehouses across the country, and fighting to block the offensive laws in court. But the Supreme Court's recent Hobby Lobby decision reminded women that we're outnumbered in the judiciary branch as well, with all three female justices strongly dissenting from a majority opinion penned by five white men.

Ironically, it was one of those five male justices who pointed the way for women to fight back. In 2010, Justice Antonin Scalia said the Constitution doesn't guarantee equal rights for women. "If the current society wants to outlaw sex discrimination, hey, we have legislatures," he said.

Lisa Wirthman of Highlands Ranch is a monthly columnist for The Denver Post. Follow her on Twitter: @Lisa Wirthman.