Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Politics & Government

Is There a War on Women's Rights?


Across the country, the term “War on Women” had made its way into the lexicon. As proof of an alleged war, critics of recent legislation point to changes in women’s health care, including abortion protocol, as well as pay discrepancies between the genders. WUWM’s LaToya Dennis reports that Wisconsin has changed a few policies affecting women, with supporters claiming there is no concerted war, just changes that make sense.

Across the country Tuesday, women and those who support them took to the streets calling for equal pay. In Milwaukee, the effort was spearheaded by 9 to 5, an organization that advocates for working women. Dana Schultz is state director. She says women in Wisconsin make around 78 cents for every dollar men earn.

“The pay gap as some of us know and some of us are denying is real. There’s a significant gap between what men make and what women make. And there’s a bigger gap if you’re a woman of color,” Schultz says.

According to data the National Women’s Law Center recently released, African American women bring in 64 cents for every dollar men earn, while Hispanic women make only 55 cents.

Women in Milwaukee marching for equal pay.

Earlier this month in Wisconsin, Gov. Walker signed into law, a rollback of the state’s Equal Pay Enforcement Act. It gave workers the option of suing employers in state court, if they were guilty of discriminating.

Republican Sen. Glenn Grothman proposed the act’s elimination, saying it forced businesses to protect themselves from threats.

“To continue to have a law on Wisconsin books which makes it less advantageous to do business in Wisconsin than in our surrounding states, is not good for men or women,” Grothman says.

Grothman says women – or any workers who feel their employer has discriminated against them, retain the right to sue in federal court.

Jeff Hynes is president of the Wisconsin Employment Lawyers Association. He says while there are federal laws to protect workers, for many, the federal court system is not a practical option.

“It can sometimes be four to five times the cost of using the state system. And the state system is the statement we make in Wisconsin that we’re going to have a more efficient, more effective system that is user friendly both for victims of discrimination as well as for defendants, as well as for businesses that might be sued,” Hynes says.

Hynes believes ideology is prompting the changes.

Democratic state Rep. Sandy Pasch says it’s clear to her, Wisconsin’s majority Republicans are waging a war on women.

“The whole ending collective bargaining was affecting a lot of women. The fact that what they’ve done as far as defunding access to health care services, not just reproductive health care services, but basic preventive services that are provided by Planned Parenthood, and then recently repealing the Wisconsin Equal Pay protection. Bills that are really treating women like second class citizens and taking away a lot of their autonomy,” Pasch says.

While Pasch perceives a concerted attack on women’s rights, Barbara Lyons says the changes she has supported focus of women’s wellbeing.

“One of the laws just passed in Wisconsin actually protects women from being forced into having abortions. How can that be a war on women?” Lyons says.

Lyons is executive director of Wisconsin Right to Life.

“The second thing that constituted this supposed war on women is that prior to a webcam abortion the law requires an in person exam of the woman. How can that be a war on her? Why would anyone want to have any drug, let alone a deadly drug prescribed to them without a doctor physically examining them,” Lyons says.

Lyons says a war on women does not exist.

“It’s a made up rhetoric for the election, there’s no question about it. And somehow or another the people who created these talking points seem to feel that women are vacuous thinkers, and it someone tells us there’s a war on women we’ll says ‘oh yeah, there’s a war on women.’ It’s just patently absurd,” Lyons says.

With both sides betting that women will see through the rhetoric, the only thing clear is that the debate is not going to subside any time soon.