Women’s groups press Congress on abortion rights, domestic violence ahead of SOTU

The U.S. Capitol is seen from the East Front Plaza at sunset on June 7
Greg Nash

More than 50 women’s groups are pressing Congress to protect abortion rights and reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act ahead of President Biden’s State of the Union address.

Biden is set to deliver his first State of the Union address on Tuesday which, according to White House adviser Cedric Richmond, will lay out the president’s plans for 2022 and discuss the challenges the administration met in its first year in office. He will also likely address the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and recent Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Ahead of Tuesday’s annual speech, 52 women’s groups — led by United State of Women — are urging Congress to act on five key policies that they say “women need to survive and thrive across the country, across communities and experiences, and across our lifespans.”

The organizations penned a letter to all congressional offices Monday calling on lawmakers to protect abortion rights, reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, pass the Build Back Better agenda, protect voting rights and enact criminal justice reform.

Signatories include Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the ERA Coalition, Jewish Women International, MomsRising, NARAL Pro-Choice America, National Urban League and Women’s March.

“Women don’t live our lives in silos — we need all of these policies to build a country where women and families can thrive,” the groups wrote. “The President has laid out an agenda to meet the moment with us. It’s up to Congress to deliver.”

The letter calls for Congress to pass legislation that protects and expands access to abortion services “regardless of where a person lives, how much money thy make, or their immigration status.” They specifically called for the passage of the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would guarantee abortion access by prohibiting restrictions on access to abortion care.

The push comes after a year that saw abortion access come under fire: the state of Texas enacted a law in September that bans abortions from taking place after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which could occur as early as six weeks into pregnancy, while the Supreme Court appears poised to limit abortion rights in a separate case regarding a Mississippi abortion law. 

The women’s groups are also pushing for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which would strengthen the legislation first passed in 1994. The bill — championed by then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) — was last reauthorized in 2013.

The groups said the legislation “is essential to protecting and supporting survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault and expanding prevention efforts.”

Additionally, the women’s groups are making the case for Congress to pass the Build Back Better agenda, which stalled late last year after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said he would not support the roughly $2 trillion package. They are specifically interested in the expanded child tax credit and paid family and medical leave provisions in the bill.

“Congress must extend the child care tax credit and guarantee 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave,” they wrote. “We need to invest in affordable child care, universal pre-k for all families, expanded home and community-based services, better wages for care workers, and maternal health care. Additionally, we need a long-promised path to citizenship for immigrants.”

Finally, the groups pressed Congress to protect voting rights and pass criminal legal reforms, two efforts that have faced difficulties during Biden’s first year in office.

“Voting rights are a cornerstone of our democracy and a free vote protects all other rights,” the groups wrote. “Our lawmakers must protect every American from the relentless attacks on our right to vote, especially for Black, Brown, Asian American and Pacific Islander, young voters, and voters with disabilities.”

A Democratic push for strengthened voting rights protections came to a standstill last month when Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) both said they would not change the legislative filibuster to pass elections reform. Democrats sought to nix the legislative hurdle for election reform because of GOP opposition — all Senate Democrats, however, were needed to make the change.

And on the criminal justice reform front, the groups wrote, “To advance racial and gender equity and justice, we need to reimagine public safety and crisis response through investments in non-carceral, non punitive public health solutions to community, family, and school safety.”

“We must end mass incarceration/mass criminalization, and root out gender, racial, and disability bias from every aspect of the criminal legal system,” they added.

Tags Cedric Richmond Joe Biden Joe Manchin Kyrsten Sinema

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