When it comes to politics and legislation in America, women’s issues often fall to the wayside. Considering the fact that women make up only 18.3% of Congress, it’s easy to see why. Look no further than the controversy surrounding the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act earlier this year, when partisan issues stood in the way of renewing and strengthening vital resources for many women. This is why those trailblazing women at all levels of government are so important, as increasing representation is an important way to ensure that women’s voices are heard.
It shouldn’t be a big deal for male politicians to stand up for women – because that seems a decent, sensible thing to do, right? But it is a big deal, because so many male officials are willing to compromise women’s health, safety, and equality in order to further their own agendas. There are a few men, however, who do their part to fairly represent their female constituents, and unfortunately, we lost one of them yesterday.
Senator Frank Lautenberg died on June 3rd at 89 years of age. The Democrat from New Jersey is the state’s longest-serving senator, and he was the last World War II veteran in the Senate. Sen. Lautenberg never ran for president and never had a very large national profile, but he was one of the most productive senators in recent memory, having cast his 9,000th vote in December of 2011.
Lautenberg took on a wide range of issues over the course of his career, and many of his achievements were significantly feminist. He wrote the domestic violence gun ban, which protected women and children by preventing convicted child and spousal abusers from owning guns. This ban was enacted in 1996.
The senator was an original cosponsor of the Family and Medical Leave Act, the first bill signed into law by President Bill Clinton, which allows people to take time off of work to care for sick family members. He also coauthored the Ryan White CARE Act, which provided services to Americans living with HIV and AIDS, and helped secure funding for the bill.
Lautenberg also wrote the Responsible Education About Life (REAL) Act, which designates funding for accurate, comprehensive sex education, and the Access to Birth Control (ABC) Act, which would prevent pharmacies from denying access to birth control. Unfortunately, both of these bills are still working their way through Congress and have yet to be enacted into law.
In the past few months, Lautenberg had joined in support of two other reproductive health bills. The first is the Peace Corp Equity Act, a bill that would protect the abortion rights of Peace Corp workers. At the moment, the program offers no coverage for abortions, and the Equity Act would ensure abortion coverage for survivors of sexual assault. Unfortunately, because of the Hyde Amendment, federal funds can only be used for abortions in cases of rape or incest. While all Peace Corp workers should have access to safe and legal abortions, the Equity Act is a first step.
Second, Lautenberg had thrown his support behind the Stop Deceptive Advertising for Women’s Services Act, which would prohibit crisis pregnancy centers from advertising abortion services to bring women into their clinics, only to convince them not to terminate their pregnancies. This bill has been introduced in both the house and the senate.
Though many of us may not have known Senator Lautenberg’s name before his death on June 3rd, we will certainly feel the loss of such a champion for reproductive rights. I hope that, in memory of the Senator, his colleagues will push to finish his important work.
Garnet is a student at Columbia University in New York City. She is “that person” who starts dancing at a party when everyone else is standing around, and if there were a Facebook stalking Olympics, she would be a gold medalist. She also loves cheesy 90s music, and almost died of happiness when Vanilla Ice retweeted her. Once. Follow her on Twitter @garnethenderson.