For 90 years, the non-partisan League of Women Voters of New Jersey has been fighting for women's equality. Frankly, we are disgusted with the need for this fight. It is shameful and disparaging that in 2010, we are still debating the economic and social benefits of family planning and basic preventative health care for women.
You would think that women wouldn't continue to be treated as second class citizens 90 years after winning the right to vote. But even as we prepare to celebrate Women's Equality Day on August 26th, we are forcefully reminded that women are not considered equal — at least not where our health is concerned. The fact that our governor vetoed legislation to provide funding for women's health services makes us acutely aware that the fight for equality is not over. And the prospect of our legislature not overriding that veto makes this disparity even clearer.
In the book "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide" Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn point out that after 1920, America's maternal mortality rate began to decrease dramatically. They write, "A society that gave women the right to vote also gave their lives more weight and directed more resources to women's health. When women could vote, suddenly their lives became more important, and enfranchising women ended up providing a huge and unanticipated boost to women's health." Apparently in the 1920s, our lives and health had more worth than in 2010.
The politicians who say they will not vote to override Governor Christie's veto claim that this is about money. Funny, the legislature had no problem finding the $65 million required to keep Bergen County blue laws. But they can't find the $7.5 million required for the budget-neutral women's health bill? Shouldn't be very hard since the non-partisan Office of Legislative Services has already found available funds for them. The League of Women Voters of New Jersey isn't buying it — this isn't about the money. These politicians know that family planning services save taxpayers $4 for every $1 spent and bring in additional federal dollars. They know that cancer screenings and blood pressure checks help save lives and money long-term. They are aware that women who have access to family planning typically have smaller, healthier families. Overriding this veto is the fiscally responsible thing to do.
This is not about the money — it is about our elected representatives playing politics with our health and rights. Not supporting family planning is about politicians who are not willing to stand up for the 136,000 women and men who relied on these services last year because it means standing up to one very powerful man.
Anne Maiese is the President of the League of Women Voters of New Jersey