Women's health care has been placed front and center in this year's election. Rape, abortion and reproductive rights debates have dominated headlines. The so-called “War on Women,” sparked in part by the Affordable Care Act, has ignited debates of church vs. state rights and even created divisions between the Catholic Church and its provider network of hospitals and charities. The women's health care debate is being played out in local, state and congressional hearings throughout the country. It is important that women legislators are at the table when these debates occur. In order to ensure full and fair representation, there must be an increase in women elected officials and an increase in women holding senior positions at the state and congressional level.
Since 1979, women have made slow but steady gains in Congress, either winning more seats each year or retaining seats already won. Unfortunately, in 2010 the number of women in Congress dropped for the first time since 1979. While the 112th Congress offered some new trends and traditions, it’s too bad that one of them was a retrenchment in female power.
Currently, women represent only 17% of Congress despite making up 51% of the population. Leadership positions are even harder to come by. Congresswoman and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Congresswoman and Chairwoman of the Foreign Affairs Committee Ileana Ros-Lehtinen are the only women holding leadership positions in the House. Senators Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer, Mary Landrieu, Patty Murray, and Deborah Stabenow chair various committees in the Senate.
In 2010, there were some big name wins for female politicians at the state level. Three female GOP candidates won their state’s governorships, bringing the total to six (four Republican, two Democrat). South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley won despite a nasty campaign accusing her of having affairs with two different men. New Mexico Governor Susanna Martinez and Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin joined Governor Haley in becoming the first women to hold the chief executive office in their respective states.
This year offers some hope for increasing the number of women in Congress. According to the 2012 Project, so far a record 154 women have been nominated for House races in November, surpassing the former record of 141 set in 2004. The record number of nominations has 2012 set up to be "The Year of Women."
When Representative Darrell Issa convened an all-male panel to discuss “religious freedom” as it pertained to women’s reproductive rights, it became clear that woean were being deliberately excluded from the process. That certainly would not have happened if a woman was in charge of the committee or if there were more women in Congress.
We need more women in Congress. Any increase in women's membership will help to broaden the healthcare debate in Congress. It is not fair for men to be the primary decision-makers on women’s health care.