As countries around the world celebrated International Women’s
Day last week, the Bolivian government launched an equal rights and
opportunities plan dubbed "Mujeres
construyendo la Nueva Bolivia
para vivir bien," which can be loosely translated as "women are building a new Bolivia with
better lives for all." Not simply a development strategy, this plan
exemplifies a significant, shared vision: namely the importance of recognizing
women’s contributions to the ongoing development of the country.
The plan is the culmination of a lengthy process of compromise between
the Bolivian government and women’s NGOs from all parts of Bolivia,
including Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir in Bolivia, a partner organization
of Catholics for Choice. All parties met with the common goal of creating a
long term strategy aimed at tackling the problems that continue to plague Bolivia,
especially those related to women.
Certainly one such problem is the prohibition of abortion. Currently,
the Bolivian Penal Code permits the right to abortion in cases of rape, incest
and when a woman’s life or health is in danger. However, the law states
that a judicial authorization must be obtained before a woman is allowed to
have an abortion. As a result of long delays in the authorization process,
women have been unable to access safe and legal abortions. Statistics speak of
the "death of a life-giving body" – a euphemism describing
the many women who die from pregnancy complications, birth and unsafe abortion
each day. Until this statistical measure becomes obsolete, change will not have
As in many other countries with similarly strong Catholic roots, the
hierarchy of the Catholic church plays a leading role in seeking to block
advancements in women’s rights, especially those pertaining to sexual and
reproductive health. That notwithstanding, a 2003 survey conducted by Catholics
for Choice and Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir in Bolivia shows that a
majority of Bolivians support access to reproductive health services. The
numbers speak for themselves: 66 percent of Bolivian Catholics support access
to abortion services and 81 percent believe that one can use contraception and
still be a good Catholic.
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This initiative is a political gain but the plan will not propel change
on its own. Change will emerge only when people claim greater responsibility
and recognize what this process means for Bolivia. As evidenced by the
numbers, Bolivian Catholics are ready for such change even if the church
hierarchy is not. This is a crucial moment: an opportunity for Bolivia
to establish new dialogues and emerge as a country in which women’s rights are honored and respected.
Delegates from Bolivia
will travel to the United Nations Commission on Population and Development,
meeting at the end of March in New
York City, where they plan to share their strategy.
Catholics for Choice will also be present at that meeting, providing a useful
counter to the church hierarchy’s dismissal of reproductive rights.
Consistent commitment to women’s rights on a global scale will enable us
to honor women all year round – not just on one single day or at one event.
“A simple tax deduction is not going to deal with the larger affordability problem in child care for low- and moderate-income individuals," Hunter Blair, a tax and budget analyst at the Economic Policy Institute told Rewire.
In a recent speech, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump suggested he now supports policies to made child care more affordable, a policy position more regularly associated with the Democratic Party. The costs of child care, which have almost doubled in the last 25 years, are a growing burden on low- and middle-income families, and quality options are often scarce.
“No one will gain more from these proposals than low- and middle-income Americans,” claimed Trump in a speech outlining his economic platform before the Detroit Economic Club on Monday. He continued, “My plan will also help reduce the cost of childcare by allowing parents to fully deduct the average cost of childcare spending from their taxes.” But economic experts question whether Trump’s proposed solution would truly help alleviate the financial burdens faced by low- and middle–income earners.
Details of most of Trump’s plan are still unclear, but seemingly rest on addressing child care costs by allowing families to make a tax deduction based on the “average cost” of care. He failed to clarify further how this might work, simply asserting that his proposal would “reduce cost in child care” and offer “much-needed relief to American families,” vowingto tell the public more with time. “I will unveil my plan on this in the coming weeks that I have been working on with my daughter Ivanka … and an incredible team of experts,” promised Trump.
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An adviser to the Trump campaign noted during an interview with the Associated Press Monday that the candidate had yet to nail down the details of his proposal, such as what the income caps would be, but said that the deductions would only amount to the average cost of child care in the state a taxpayer resided in:
Stephen Moore, a conservative economist advising Trump, said the candidate is still working out specifics and hasn’t yet settled on the details of the plan. But he said households reporting between $30,000 and $100,000, or perhaps $150,000 a year in income, would qualify for the deduction.
“I don’t think that Britney Spears needs a child care credit,” Moore said. “What we want to do is to help financially stressed middle-class families have some relief from child-care expenses.”
The deduction would also likely apply to expensive care like live-in nannies. But exemptions would be limited to the average cost of child care in a taxpayer’s state, so parents wouldn’t be able to claim the full cost of such a high-price child care option.
Experts immediately pointed outthat while the details of Trump’s plan are sparse, his promise to make average child care costs fully tax deductible wouldn’t do much for the people who need access to affordable child care most.
Trump’s plan “would actually be pretty poorly targeted for middle-class and low-income families,” Hunter Blair, a tax and budget analyst at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), told Rewire on Monday.
That’s because his tax breaks would presumably not benefit those who don’t make enough money to owe the federal government income taxes—about 44 percent of households, according to Blair. “They won’t get any benefit from this.”
As the Associated Press further explained, for those who don’t owe taxes to the government, “No matter how much they reduce their income for tax purposes by deducting expenses, they still owe nothing.”
Many people still may not benefit from such a deduction because they file standard instead of itemized deductions—meaning they accept a fixed amount instead of listing out each qualifying deduction. “Most [lower-income households] don’t choose to file a tax return with itemized deductions,” Helen Blank, director of child care and early learning at the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), told Rewire Tuesday. That means the deduction proposed by Trump “favors higher income families because it’s related to your tax bracket, so the higher your tax bracket the more you benefit from [it],” added Blank.
A 2014 analysis conducted by the Congressional Research Service confirms this. According to its study, just 32 percent of tax filers itemized their deductions instead of claiming the standard deduction in 2011. While 94 to 98 percent of those with incomes above $200,000 chose to itemize their deductions, just 6 percent of tax filers with an adjusted gross income below $20,000 per year did so.
“Trump’s plan is also not really a solution that deals with the problem,” said Blair. “A simple tax deduction is not going to deal with the larger affordability problem in child care for low- and moderate-income individuals.”
Those costs are increasingly an issue for many in the United States. A report released last year by Child Care Aware® of America, which advocates for “high quality, affordable child care,” found that child care for an infant can cost up to an average $17,062 annually, while care for a 4-year-old can cost up to an average of $12,781.
“The cost of child care is especially difficult for families living at or below the federal poverty level,” the organization explained ina press release announcing those findings. “For these families, full-time, center-based care for an infant ranges from 24 percent of family income in Mississippi, to 85 percent of family income in Massachusetts. For single parents the costs can be overwhelming—in every state annual costs of center-based infant care averaged over 40 percent of the state median income for single mothers.”
“Child care now costs more than college in most states in our nation, and it is an actual true national emergency,” Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, CEO and executive director of MomsRising, told Rewire in a Tuesday interview. “Donald Trump’s new proposed child care tax deduction plan falls far short of a solution because it’s great for the wealthy but it doesn’t fix the child care crisis for the majority of parents in America.”
Rowe-Finkbeiner, whose organization advocates for family economic security, said that in addition to the tax deduction being inaccessible to those who do not itemize their taxes and those with low incomes who may not pay federal income taxes, Trump’s proposal could also force those least able to afford it “to pay up-front child care costs beyond their family budget.”
“We have a crisis … and Donald Trump’s proposal doesn’t improve access, doesn’t improve quality, doesn’t lift child care workers, and only improves affordability for the wealthy,” she continued.
Trump’s campaign, however, further claimed in a statement to CNN Tuesday that “the plan also allows parents to exclude child care expenses from half of their payroll taxes—increasing their paycheck income each week.”
“The working poor do face payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare, so a payroll tax break could help them out,” reported CNN. “But experts say it would be hard to administer.”
Meanwhile,Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton released her own child care agenda in May, promising to use the federal government to cap child care costs at 10 percent of a family’s income.
A cap like this, Blank said, “would provide more help to low- and middle-income families.” She continued, “For example, if you had a family with two children earning $70,000, if you capped child care at 10 percent they could probably save … $10,000 a year.”
Clinton’s plan includes a promise to implement a program to address the low wages many who work in the child care industry face, which she calls the “Respect And Increased Salaries for Early Childhood Educators” program, or the RAISE Initiative. The program would raise pay and provide training for child-care workers.
Such policies could make a major difference to child-care workers—the overwhelming majority of which are women and workers of color—who often make poverty-level wages. A 2015 study by the EPI found that the median wage for these workers is just $10.31 an hour, and few receive employer benefits. Those poor conditions make it difficult to attract and retain workers, and improve the quality of care for children around the country.
Addressing the low wages of workers in the field may be expensive, but according to Rowe-Finkbeiner, it is an investment worth making. “Real investments in child care bring for an average child an eight-to-one return on investment,” she explained. “And that’s because when we invest in quality access and affordability, but particularly a focus on quality … which means paying child-care workers fairly and giving child-care workers professional development opportunities …. When that happens, then we have lower later grade repetition, we have less future interactions with the criminal justice system, and we also have a lower need for government programs in the future for those children and families.
Affordable child care has also been a component of other aspects of Clinton’s campaign platform. The “Military Families Agenda,” for example, released by the Clinton campaign in June to support military personnel and their families, also included a child care component. The former secretary of state’s plan proposed offering these services “both on- and off-base, including options for drop-in services, part-time child care, and the provision of extended-hours care, especially at Child Development Centers, while streamlining the process for re-registering children following a permanent change of station (PCS).”
“Service members should be able to focus on critical jobs without worrying about the availability and cost of childcare,” said Clinton’s proposal.
Though it may be tempting to laud the simple fact that both major party candidates have proposed a child care plan at all, to Rowe-Finkbeiner, having both nominees take up the cause is a “no-brainer.”
“Any candidate who wants to win needs to take up family economic security policies, including child care,” she said. “Democrats and Republicans alike know that there is a child care crisis in America. Having a baby right now costs over $200,000 to raise from zero to age 18, not including college …. Parents of all political persuasions are talking about this.”
Coming up with the right way to address those issues, however, may take some work.
“We need a bold plan because child care is so important, because it helps families work, and it helps them support their children,” the NWLC’s Blank said. “We don’t have a safety net for families to fall back on anymore. It’s really critical to help families earn the income their children need and child care gives children a strong start.” She pointed to the need for programs that offer families aid “on a regular basis, not at the end of the year, because families don’t have the extra cash to pay for child care during the year,” as well as updates to the current child care tax credits offered by the government.
“There is absolutely a solution, but the comprehensive package needs to look at making sure that children have high-quality child care and early education, and that there’s also access to that high-quality care,” Rowe-Finkbeiner told Rewire.
“It’s a complicated problem, but it’s not out of our grasp to fix,” she said. “It’s going to take an investment in order to make sure that our littlest learners can thrive and that parents can go to work.”
It is no longer acceptable—at least in theory—for state legislators to announce that a particular restriction advances an interest in women’s health and to expect courts and the public to take them at their word. The same goes for, as it turns out, voting rights.
It has been a good summer for reproductive rights advocates. A little over a month ago, the U.S. Supreme Court in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt struck down two burdensome restrictions in a Texas omnibus anti-abortion law. The Court’s opinion was so data and fact-driven, it signaled to reproductive rights advocates that science and evidence had finally made a comeback in the courts, especially when it comes to laws that burden constitutional rights.
It is no longer acceptable—at least in theory—for state legislators to announce that a particular restriction advances an interest in women’s health and to expect courts and the public to take them at their word.
The same goes for, as it turns out, voting rights.
Conservative legislators across the country have been complaining about voter fraud for years. As soon as the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holderin 2013, states like Texas and North Carolina rushed to enact and implement legislation requiring voter identification, which disproportionately disenfranchised Black and Latino voters. And even though no state has been able to offer proof of any in-person voter fraud crisis—because no such crisis exists—that hasn’t stopped states from continuing to pass laws aimed at slaying the phantom voter fraud demons.
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But there has been a palpable momentum shift in the GOP’s war on voting: Voting rights advocates seem to be winning, with a little help from Whole Woman’s Health.
It may surprise you that Whole Woman’s Health has popped up in cases involving voter ID laws. But since Whole Woman’s Health’s victory in June, four states have seen their voter ID laws either weakened or eliminated entirely. Two of the decisions in those cases, Wisconsin’s and Texas’, specifically reference Whole Woman’s Health.
First, in Wisconsin, a district court judge cited Whole Woman’s Health in a decision weakening that state’s voter ID law. There, District Court Judge Lynn Adelman ruled that voters who were unable to obtain voter ID could still vote by signing an affidavit as to their identity. Wisconsin protested that the court’s affidavit fail-safe provision would undermine the integrity of Wisconsin’s elections, but offered no proof to back up its claim.
“The Supreme Court recently reiterated that where a state law burdens a constitutional right, the state must produce evidence supporting its claim that the burden is necessary to further the state’s claimed interests,” Adelman wrote, citing Whole Woman’s Health. Evidence. Not just baseless, transparently false claims about a law’s purpose, but evidence.
And in Texas, two Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals judges cited Whole Woman’s Health in a concurring opinion invalidating Texas’ voter ID law. Amazingly, even a full panel of the ultra-conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Texas’s voter ID law disproportionately burdened Black and Latino voters, and therefore violated the Voting Rights Act.
In a concurring opinion, Judge Stephen Higginson acknowledged that combating voter fraud and promoting voter confidence were legitimate state interests, but, he said,again citing Whole Woman’s Health, simply asserting those interests doesn’t immunize a voter ID law from all challenges.
“[A]s the Supreme Court recently reminded [us], that a state interest is legitimate does not necessarily mean courts should ignore evidence of whether a specific law advances that interest or imposes needless burdens,” he wrote for himself and Judge Gregg Costa.
The message from Wisconsin and Texas is clear: If a state is going to claim that a particular law is going to fix a particular problem, that state needs to prove it. Courts will not rubber-stamp laws that needlessly burden constitutional rights without actually doing anything to fix the problem they were supposedly enacted to fix. And that’s a noticeable shift stemming from Whole Woman’s Health.
Other crucial voting rights victories this month have, as Stephen Colbert might put it, a Whole Woman’s Healthiness about them.
In North Carolina, while Whole Woman’s Health was not featured in the the Circuit Court of Appeals’ defenestration of that state’s sweeping election law, you can certainly feel its presence.
North Carolina passed its sweeping law after requesting data that showed which voting mechanisms Black people used the most, and then eliminating those mechanisms. For example, the racial data the legislature received showed that Black voters disproportionately used early voting in 2008 and 2012. So, North Carolina eliminated the first week of early voting, shortening the total early voting period from 17 to ten days.
“Although the new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision,” Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for a unanimous court, “they constitute inapt remedies for the problems assertedly justifying them and, in fact, impose cures for problems that did not exist.”
In other words, North Carolina’s voter ID provision was about as useful at combating voter fraud and promoting voter confidence as the admitting privileges and ambulatory surgical center provisions in Texas’ HB 2 were at promoting women’s health and safety: that is to say, not very useful at all.
In Michigan, District Court Judge Gershwin A. Drain expressed skepticism at Michigan Republicans’ rationale for banning straight-party voting. Michigan claimed that the prohibition would help “preserve the purity of elections,” and “guard against abuses of the elective franchise.” The state also argued that the law would demand that voters be more knowledgeable about candidates and would encourage voters to make selections based on criteria other than party affiliation.
But Michigan didn’t submit any evidence to prove its claims, and Judge Drain wasn’t buying it.
“Michigan has not demonstrated how straight-party voting has damaged, or could possibly damage, the ‘purity’ of the election process,” District Court Judge Gershwin A. Drain wrote. “There is nothing ‘impure’ or ‘disengaged’ about choosing to vote for every candidate affiliated with, for example, the Republican Party,” Drain continued.
“Moreover, the idea that voting one’s party reflects ignorance or disengagement is, ironically, disconnected from reality,” he continued. “Even if ‘disengaged’ voting was problematic—and it is not—the Court finds that [the law] does nothing to encourage voters to be any more ‘engaged.’”
In North Dakota, plaintiffs challenged a law that required voters to present certain forms of voter ID and that did not have a “fail safe” provision which would enable a person who did not have the required voter ID to vote, which had existed before the law’s implementation in 2013. Plaintiffs claimed that the law severely burdened the Native American population in North Dakota, and submitted affidavits, studies, surveys, and other data in order to prove it. In response, North Dakota submitted nothing—not a shred of evidence that would back up its claim that the voter ID law was necessary to combat voter fraud.
Nothing wasn’t enough for Judge Daniel L. Hovland, who blocked the law.
“The undisputed evidence before the Court reveals that overcoming these obstacles can be difficult, particularly for an impoverished Native American,” he wrote.
Recognizing North Dakota had a valid interest in preventing voter fraud and promoting voter confidence, Hovland ruled that “those interests would not be undermined by allowing Native American voters, or any other voters who cannot obtain an ID, to present an affidavit or declaration in lieu of one of the four forms of permissible voter IDs.”
“No eligible voter, regardless of their station in life, should be denied the opportunity to vote,” Hovland said.
The losses suffered by Republican-dominated legislatures in Wisconsin, North Carolina, Michigan, and North Dakota, combined with federal court decisions striking down other voter restrictions in Kansas and Ohio (both decisions pre-date Whole Woman’s Health but certainly fit into a post-Whole Woman’s Health zeitgeist) suggests that judges are, as Mark Joseph Stern put it in Slate, “fed up with being treated like dolts by Republican legislators who lie through their teeth about the intent of draconian voting restrictions.”
Whole Woman’s Health has provided those irritated judges extra ammunition to shoot down unnecessary voter ID laws.
In a post-Whole Woman’s Health world, courts do not have to simply accept whatever lies a legislature decides to tell as “legislative fact.” If when a legislature says “to promote women’s health and safety,” it is nevertheless apparent that it means “to reduce abortion access,” then that law will not, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg put it in her two-paragraph Whole Woman’s Health concurrence, survive judicial inspection.
The same can be said of voting rights. Courts do not have to accept “to preserve the integrity of elections” as an explanation when the obvious goal is “to keep people of color from voting.”
States can still say anything. But now, it’s more likely that they’ll have to prove it.