I am pro choice because my mother became pregnant as a teenager. She and my father got married not long after that, and my sister and I came along not too long after that. During my childhood, my parents were working, finishing their education, and raising kids at the same time. It wasn’t pretty. There was never enough money. It was always a struggle. But that is a situation many American children are raised in.
That's why choice has always been an economic issue for me.
Of course there are plenty of other reasons to be pro-choice: self-determination, independence, control over your own body.
Being pro-choice is about making sure women have enough power to control our own reproductive lives.
That is our shared goal. That is our vision. The pro-choice movement uses the political process to make that vision a reality.
Together we have had some victories. Last year we finally legalized midwives in Maryland.
Two years ago we passed a law requiring small business give women time off for childbirth. Not Paid Leave, just unpaid time off, so they wouldn’t lose their jobs. Interestingly, I asked a so-called pro-life group if they wanted to weigh in on that bill, but they said that they would sit it out.
Pro Life until the moment of delivery, right?
All of these victories, as meaningful as they are, are not the kind of bold leadership we should be showing.
Look at what is happening across the country.
Add to that the utter nonsense of a threatened government shutdown over Planned Parenthood funding (Give me a break, it’s 2015 and those guys are blocking access to birth control and HIV tests!).
All of this craziness has kept the pro-choice movement on the defensive.
But when you’re playing defense, you never reach your goal. You never score.
Our job in Maryland, our responsibility, is to play offense. Our job is to get us closer to that goal that shared vision of women having enough power to control our own reproductive lives. Until we reach that goal until women have enough power our uteruses will continue to be political footballs.
My very being, my control over my own life, my daughter’s control over hers, should not be a political issue we see pop up every presidential election year used by both sides for fundraising and to mobilize the base..
To stop these stupid games politicians play with our lives we have to reach our ultimate goal of building a country where women truly have enough power to control their own lives.
To empower women as individuals and as a group we must get women money.
In general, men have five times more wealth than women. Eighty-eight of the 100 richest people in this country are men.
If money is power, and money controls politics, then it’s no wonder men control politics. Remember, although women cast more than 50% of the votes, men are 80% of Congress. And as long as men control politics women’s uteruses will remain political footballs.
The way to put an end to that is by getting women money.
If you remember one thing I say today make it this: Women’s reproductive lives determine their economic lives.
The face of poverty in America is female. And there is only ONE reason for that. It is because WE have the babies.
In this tradition, old-fashioned, outdated, not family friendly economy, our choice to have babies with the men in our lives makes us incredibly economically vulnerable.
- Do you know a woman is twice as likely as a man to live in poverty when she is over 65?
- The wage gap is 79 cents on the dollar.
- Did you know: The leading cause is motherhood. There is almost no wage gap for people without children.
- The choice to have a child permanently impairs a woman’s financial security, but not a man’s.
- In Maryland, the wage gap between full time working mothers and full time working fathers is 71 cents on the dollar.
- Let me say that again—in Maryland—full time working moms make 71 cents to the dollar of working dads. It’s not only because of actual division of home labor, time out of the workforce, or women’s need to learn how to negotiate—it’s outright discrimination, mothers are offered lower starting salaries than women who are not mothers and fathers higher starting salaries than men who are not fathers. .
When Motherhood is the greatest predictor of wage inequality—do we really have the right to choose here in Maryland?
Lost wages, lost retirement security, less wealth, increased dependence on men (domestic violence), reduced career opportunities later in life.
When it comes down to dollars and cents, women are paying a huge price if they choose to be mothers.
Because our economy was not designed with women—and our fertility—in mind.
If we want women to truly have the right to choose—we must develop policies that level the playing field for working mothers.
We must commit to that as a social and as a state priority.
In Maryland today, we have the power to do that. Are you with me?
Do you want to ramp up the pro-choice offense? And get our movement closer to finally winning? And ending all the political games?
There are two policies we can enact right now that will empower mothers in this economy.
President Obama asked us as a State to figure out how to pass both of these laws because at the federal level with that Congress his hands are tired.
1) Paid Sick Days
MoCo Council passed the strongest law in the nation. Use your sick days for your kids, for yourself, use it to go to Planned Parenthood and get an IUD or you can use it to get a safe legal abortion.
Prince George’s is looking at passing a similar law.
The State of Maryland is poised to pass this bill Statewide this year. We need to fight to make sure that happens.
2) Establish a Family and Medical Leave Insurance Pool
This bill is my baby. It is a revolution for women in the workforce and a major step towards a family friendly economy.
It creates a social insurance program like unemployment insurance for longer-term absences from work. Not five to seven days, like paid sick leave, but several weeks.
- For maternity leave,
- To treat serious illness,
- To care for a dying parent,
- Anything for which you would currently take unpaid family and medical leave
It works like social security, we all pay into it, and when we need it, we get to use it. It’s not full wage replacement, but it’s enough so you can pay your rent in a family or medical crisis.
And they empower working mothers.
I recently met a woman named Angela. She works as an esthetician in Bethesda. She told me that when her daughter was born, she took two months off, unpaid. She and her husband had to sell their car to pay rent during her maternity leave. She's not sure how she will get to work once winter comes. Here in the United States of America, in the pro-choice state of Maryland, we can do better. Every other country in the world has managed to find a way to pay for maternity leave.
I don’t want to hear one more story like that. We have the pro-choice strength in Maryland to pass this law. To go on the offensive, and build the world we want to see for women, men and families.
I hope you will join me.
Delegate Ariana Kelly accepting the Choice Advocate Award