THE BLOG
11/18/2014 05:20 pm ET Updated Jan 18, 2015

A Road Map for Our New Governor to Improve Women's Health and Economic Security

Democratic challenger Tom Wolf defied a national tide and 60 years of Pennsylvania history in defeating incumbent Republican governor Tom Corbett on November 4. Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised. October polls showed 61 percent of voters believed the state was on the wrong track -- as did 100 percent of advocates for women's health and economic security. It's little wonder that Tom Wolf won the vote of women by 16 points.

As a recently released 2014 report card on women's health confirmed, Pennsylvania's failing when it comes to meeting women's health needs, especially for women of color. After analyzing a wide range of measures relating to women's health in every state, the researchers stated that "Pennsylvania has a long way to go to ensure that all women, regardless of where they are born or live, their racial or ethnic backgrounds, and their income levels, have access to the health care they need to lead healthy and prosperous lives." They concluded that Pennsylvania's poor marks should be of particular concern to policymakers.

Enter Tom Wolf.

From the outset of his campaign, Governor-elect Wolf has promised to expand Medicaid so that Pennsylvania is no longer the so-called "island of the uninsured." Extending Medicaid coverage to the 500,000 residents currently left out due to Governor Corbett's refusal to include them is a good place to begin the work of improving the health and economic security of Pennsylvanians across the board.

Medicaid expansion means better health and security, while the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women's Health -- a pro-choice, bipartisan package of bills -- provides a legislative roadmap Governor-elect Wolf and policymakers can follow to improve the conditions of women's lives.

Three initiatives are of particular importance.

Equal Pay. Most agree that women and men should earn equal pay for equal work, and every study on the issue of equal pay concludes that an inexplicable disparity between what the average man and average women earns exists even after accommodating for all possible variables such as job choice and hours worked.

Recently, the state held its first hearing on the subject in 50 years.

In Pennsylvania, women working full time, year round, are paid 76 cents to the dollar paid to men. The differences are even greater for women of color. If progress continues to stall, women will not achieve parity with men until 2058.

The second important piece of legislation for Tom Wolf to consider is the Patient Trust Act. In states across the country, politicians are interfering with doctor-patient communications by enacting laws that either coerce or gag doctor's speech.

In Florida, for example, doctors are prohibited from discussing gun safety with patients, even though the American Medical Association strongly recommends doing so. In Pennsylvania, a controversial law has been passed that restricts what doctors can tell patients about fracking chemicals. Most often, such laws specifically target obstetricians and gynecologists; in many states, anti-choice politicians force doctors to lie to patients in an attempt to dissuade them from having an abortion.

The Patient Trust Act, endorsed by the Pennsylvania Medical Association, is model legislation. If Pennsylvania legislators pass it, they can both fight this insidious trend of politicizing doctor's private communications with patients, and set a nationwide example.

Finally, it's time to protect pregnant workers. Many of the conservatives holding power in Pennsylvania call themselves "pro-life." Unfortunately, their definition of "pro-life" doesn't include concern for the needs of pregnant women or working mothers.

In most of Pennsylvania, pregnant workers can be denied a sip of water, an extra bathroom break or a stool to sit on behind a register, even when a doctor recommends such minor accommodations for the health of the pregnant woman. And when a woman returns to work after giving birth, many businesses in Pennsylvania can legally deny her a sanitary place to pump fresh milk for her newborn.

This year, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh officials passed ordinances that provide pregnant and nursing workers with some reasonable accommodations. State legislators introduced bills to extend those protections to pregnant and nursing women across the state as part of the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women's Health. So far, conservatives, who talked non-stop about protecting women while implementing abortion restrictions, have not taken up the issue.

The status of women's health and economic security in Pennsylvania is deplorable, and there is no silver bullet. By supporting these bills and the rest of the Agenda, Governor-elect Tom Wolf can follow the roadmap, and work with the General Assembly point us in the right direction. Equal pay, patients' trust in their doctors and reasonable accommodations for pregnant and nursing workers are not partisan issues.

Or are they?

Kate Michelman is co-chair of WomenVote PA, http://www.womenvotepa.organ initiative of Women's Law Project, http://www.womenslawproject.org that educates, engages, and mobilizes Pennsylvanians to make equality a reality for women. She is also president emerita of NARAL Pro-Choice America and author of "With Liberty and Justice for All: A Life Spent Protecting the Right to Choose." Carol E. Tracy is Executive Director of the Women's Law Project and co-chair of WomenVote PA, an initiative of the Women's Law Project.