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Poor for women

L. Lawson

News that Indiana finished 43rd among the states for women’s quality of life will come as no surprise to State Rep. Linda Lawson. The Hammond Democrat has watched as the legislature has become increasingly hostile on the very issues defining the survey.

“The General Assembly is the nastiest, meanest place I’ve ever been in, and I’ve seen a lot,” Lawson told participants at a Women and Gender Studies Conference last month at Indiana University Northwest.

A retired police captain who once investigated sex crimes, Lawson made a passionate speech on the House floor last year after a Republican colleague suggested that women could lie about being raped to avoid proposed limits on abortion.

In the same session, some GOP lawmakers wanted to require doctors to tell women seeking an abortion that the procedure would increase their risk of breast cancer, a medically unproven assertion. The General Assembly also voted to defund Planned Parenthood, with supporters arguing that other providers could fill the gap in providing basic health care services for low-income women. Some of the examples they cited turned out to be homeless shelters, juvenile detention centers and the Indiana Women’s Prison.

The survey by ranks the states on women’s health, economic well-being, education, affordable child care, female representation at the state and federal levels and reproductive rights. Arkansas ranked at the bottom; Connecticut at the top. Ohio finished in 32nd place; Michigan in 21st.

For the reproductive rights category, the survey considered whether a state has a contraceptive equity law requiring insurance companies to cover birth control (Indiana does not). Did it defund Planned Parenthood, which provides low-cost medical care to thousands of women? (Yes, Indiana did).

“Indiana needs more females in positions of power in order to do a better job on the issues that matter most to women,” according to the survey, which noted Rep. Bob Morris’ much-publicized objection to a resolution honoring the Girl Scouts because – he claimed – the organization promotes homosexual lifestyles.

Indiana’s congressional district includes no women; Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman and newly appointed Secretary of State Connie Lawson are the only female statewide office-holders.

On a positive note, the survey – released in mid-March – noted that Jane Ann Seigel was a finalist for the Indiana Supreme Court and that her appointment could place a woman on the court for the first time in 13 years. Hoosiers, of course, know that didn’t come to be. Gov. Mitch Daniels again bypassed a well-qualified female. He’ll have a third chance to do the right thing now that Justice Frank Sullivan has announced he’s stepping down.

But Hoosiers don’t have to wait. They can demand more immediate action on issues important to women, first by nominating and then electing candidates who pledge to do the right thing.