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Women's Issues





House Democratic Women of the 113th Congress


Since women earned the right to vote 94 years ago, we have seen our rights and influence grow exponentially.

The 114th Congress includes a record number of women legislators and I am proud to join my colleagues from both sides of the aisle on the Women’s Caucus in ensuring that our perspective is represented in the legislation Congress considers. However, with progress come challenges. In Massachusetts, only six women have gone to Washington to represent the Commonwealth. Two of those women were elected in what is now the Third Congressional District (what used to be called the Fifth Congressional District). In 1925, five years after women earned the right to vote, this district elected Edith Nourse Rogers as the first woman from Massachusetts to serve in Congress; she still holds the record as the longest serving Congresswoman in the House of Representatives. In 2007, this district elected me to Congress as the first woman from Massachusetts in a quarter century. In 2012, Massachusetts elected its first woman Senator, Elizabeth Warren and in 2013, I was joined by Katherine Clark in the House of Representatives

These challenges crystallize just how important it is to have women in power at the national and international level. Advancing equality for women isn't just about specific initiatives - it is about bringing a woman's perspective to the debate.

History has shown that the inclusion of women at all levels of government and society has been an essential ingredient in America’s achievements over the past century. When more women are involved in the process of change, more of the issues that affect women and families as a whole are addressed.

As a social worker, the head of Lowell’s first all-female law practice, and a community activist, I have always made the issues that impact women and families a priority and have continued that advocacy at the federal level.

I joined my Democratic colleagues in several efforts to ensure major issues impacting women, such as equal pay for equal work, affordable childcare, women’s access to health care and more are made a priority. We know that issues like these are essential to helping women succeed.



Women’s rights have come a long way, but we still have work to do, especially when it comes to women in the workplace. For example, in the US, women make only 78 cents for every dollar earned by a by a man, according to the US Census Bureau, and are more likely to be poor. Iam a co-sponsor of the Paycheck Fairness Act, legislation that seeks to ensure that women are paid the same amount for doing the same job as their male counterparts.


The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act restores a basic protection against pay discrimination by rectifying the Supreme Court decision in the case Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co.  The case concerned Lilly Ledbetter, a Goodyear employee with more than 19 years of service to her employer who did not discover until the end of her career that she was paid significantly less than her male counterparts.  Seeking back pay, she sued Goodyear.  In a 5-to-4 decision, the Supreme Court overturned decades of precedent, ruling that Ledbetter should have filed her claim within six months of receiving her first discriminatory paycheck.

The Ledbetter Fair Pay Act requires employers who practice unequal pay to justify their actions. This bill was signed into law by President Obama on January 29, 2009.

Read more about my work in the community related to this important legislation.


Pregnant women also face discrimination in the workplace. In some instances, pregnant women have been denied minor accommodations—prohibited from carrying a water bottle or from using a stool rather than standing. I am proud to cosponsor the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) which would prevent pregnant women from being denied reasonable work accommodations or being forced to take unnecessary leave.


Women now comprise about 15% of the military, and that number is rising. 

As a member of the House Armed Services Committee (a committee historically dominated by men), and a national leader and voice in the fight against military sexual assault, I have made protecting those who protect us a top priority. I have worked on the important issues of women’s health, preventing and responding to sexual assault in the Armed Forces and modernizing body armor, to name a few. I, along with other women who serve on the Committee, have helped ensure that issues unique to servicewomen are not ignored.


Recent studies have revealed that as many as 1 in 4 women leaving military service report that they have experienced some form of Military Sexual Trauma. However, very few women come forward to report this crime. 

Long before this issue was thrust into the national spotlight by high profile scandals and the compelling Academy Award nominated The Invisible War, I learned of the seriousness of sexual assault in the military when an Army nurse told me, “Ma’am, I am more afraid of my own soldiers than I am of the enemy.”  Working across the aisle with Republican Congressman Mike Turner of Ohio, I established the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus so that Congress has a dedicated and bipartisan group of members committed to overseeing the military’s efforts to deal with the unacceptable number of military sexual assaults. Our Caucus has become a go-to voice in Congress on finding ways to address the alarming incidence of military sexual assault.  When former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey sought Congress’s input, they made a special trip to meet with our Caucus and as a result, major changes to the way the military handles sexual assault were instituted.

When it comes to confronting sexual assault in the military, I’ve worked for several years to give the military the tools they need to better support victims and help them seek justice.  Along with Congressman Turner, I have authored numerous pieces of legislation, signed into law, that have made significant and historic changes to military law, procedures, and policy. For example, I authored the Defense STRONG Act, which was signed into law in 2011 and grants victims the right to a base transfer, the right to legal counsel, and the right to confidentiality when seeking assistance from an advocate.  However, instituting improved policies is just one step. In order to fully combat and prevent these crimes, we must work to improve the culture of the armed services and increase accountability for commanders.

Visit the Military Sexual Trauma page on this website for an in-depth look at this issue and my long-standing work to combat these crimes.

Below you will find several media stories about the military sexual assault issue and the efforts being undertaken by my colleagues and I to combat and prevent these crimes.

Rolling Stone Magazine  |  Boston Globe  |  Boston HeraldNBC News  |  WGBH Radio  |  Boston Globe Editorial


For years I have strongly advocated for improved body armor for our troops in the field.  This effort helped lead to the tripling of the financial commitment to body armor research and development, fully supported by President Obama. This substantial increase reflects the concern of myself and many other members of Congress that we need to be doing more to develop the best possible body armor systems—even as we begin to draw down from Afghanistan—and represents a significant victory in this effort.

In addition to this expanded financial commitment for body armor development, a legislative provision that I authored, and is now law, recognizes the role that women are increasingly playing on the front lines of our battlefields by directing the Department of Defense to develop body armor specifically for female soldiers. 

In October 2013, 24,000 sets of female body armor were being issued to servicewomen ( Originally tested by the women in the 101st Airborne in Afghanistan, the Generation 3 Improved Outer Tactical Vest (IOTV) was developed at Massachusetts’ own Natick Soldier Systems Center.

For more, read my Op-Ed in TIME Magazine about the need for female body armor.


Major health gaps still exist in getting women servicemembers healthcare through the Department of Defense. As a result,I introduced the WE CARE Act (Women’s Excellence of Care and Access Review and Evaluation Act).

The bill requires a review of the medical services the Department of Defense has available for women-specific medical care—gynecological, breast and cervical cancer, preventative, and treatment for sexual assault.  It seems simple—the DOD should be able to show that it is meeting the healthcare needs of our women in uniform. The WE CARE Act passed into law in December 2011.

When completed, the review found that the Defense Department has taken steps to better address the quality of health care provided to military servicewomen, but that it must better address the health care needs of sexual assault survivors during deployment.  I am committed to making sure that the Department of Defense makes these necessary improvements.


Congress passed a historic health care reform bill, which was signed into law by President Obama in March 2010.  This bill holds benefits for everyone, but it has a unique impact on women because of the way women have been persistently discriminated against by insurance companies

For example, prior to the passage of Health Care Reform:

  1. Women on average paid higher premiums than men (a practice known as “gender rating”).  For example, a 25-year-old woman could pay up to 84% more than a man, even for a health plan that excludes maternity coverage.  More than 60% of health care plans charged a 40-year-old woman who doesn’t smoke more than a 40-year-old man who does.
  2. It was still legal in many states for insurance companies to deny a woman coverage if she has been the victim of domestic violence
  3. Many women did not have coverage for routine preventative care like mammograms and pap smears.  The final bill guaranteed this coverage.

I was proud to join my fellow women colleagues in raising this issue and others that specifically affect women during the debate over health care reform.

The Budget Committee, on which I served, was one of the committees responsible for reviewing the bill before it could become law, and during our review, I introduced an amendment to prohibit insurance companies from denying full or partial coverage to women, including maternity coverage, for so-called “pre-existing conditions” such as domestic violence, pregnancy, or a medical history of cesarean sections.  My Republican colleagues joined me in supporting this motion, acknowledging that my amendment was crafted “fairly” and “addresses a significant problem,” and will improve health care for women and families.  The motion passed unanimously.


Each year, half of the more than six million pregnancies in the United States are unintended, and many of these pregnancies end in abortion. I know this is an issue that individuals take very seriously and I respect those who may come to a different conclusion than I do. I believe that women should have the right to make their own health decisions in consultation with their doctors, and I am working hard so that the need for an abortion is rare.

In order to make this possible, young people must have access to the proper sexual education and preventative health services. To help accomplish this, the federal government funds Title X, the only federal program dedicated to providing women and men with comprehensive family planning and related preventive health services that help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and improve women's health. To be very clear, Title X does not fund abortion services.

Ensuring that women have access to quality, voluntary family planning services is one of the best and most cost-effective ways we can prevent abortion and improve maternal and infant health. I will continue to work with President Obama who has committed to helping reduce unintended pregnancies and protect the health of women throughout this country.

We must ensure that women have the proper access to health care and health education when needed. A recent decision by the Supreme Court was counterproductive to this goal, supporting instead an employer making health care decisions for employees. On June 30, 2014, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that privately-held corporations could choose, on the basis of the religious beliefs of their corporate owners, to deny women insurance coverage for certain types of FDA-approved contraception. I believe this ruling, by an all-male majority of the Court, set a dangerous precedent that could lead to corporate owners denying coverage for other important health care services. I am a proud cosponsor of the Protect Women's Health from Corporate Interference Act, a bill that would reverse the Hobby Lobby decision.

We also saw the Supreme Court repeal Massachusetts’s buffer zone law this year—a law that was enacted to protect women and men from protestors as they entered health clinics that offered abortion services. Thankfully, the state government acted swiftly on a legislative response that puts in place new protections for those attempting to enter clinics and this bill was signed into law by Governor Patrick on July 30, 2014.



During my time in Congress, I have been a strong proponent of measures that prevent and respond to domestic violence and sexual assault and that enable women to empower themselves with the tools to find safety and seek economic mobility.

As I have noted on the House floor, domestic violence not only harms the victim, it has a cumulative effect on communities. Children who grow up in households where domestic violence occurs are 60-75% more likely to experience child abuse. These children tend to suffer from a variety of psychological problems during their lifetime.  And according to the University of New Mexico and the University of Minnesota, “children in homes where domestic violence occurs are physically abused or seriously neglected at a rate 1500% higher than the national average. Furthermore, according to Mayors Against Illegal Guns, 57% of mass shootings between 2009 and December 2013 have been tied to domestic violence.

I have been a strong supporter of full funding for the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) which helps provide legal assistance for victims of domestic violence, strengthens domestic violence shelters, and helps to enforce restraining orders. This law has encouraged states to set up coordinated community responses to domestic violence and rape; was the catalyst for passage of hundreds of state laws prohibiting family violence; and provided resources to set up shelters so battered women abused by husbands and boyfriends had a place to go.  The law also established the national hotline that over 1.5 million abused women have called for help.

Since its passage in 1994, the groundbreaking VAWA has helped to protect victims of domestic violence, enabled women to escape abusive relationships, and represented a historic step forward for women's rights.

In February 2013, all of the Democrats in the House of Representatives and 87 Republicans came together to pass an update to VAWA. The bill was signed into law by President Obama on March 7, 2013. This law has helped to protect victims of domestic violence and enable women to escape abusive relationships.

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