What’s in a name? Pro-choice v. pro-life and the abortion debate

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Labels have, up until this point, played a pretty sizeable role in the abortion debate. Are you pro-choice? Pro-life? Anti-choice? Pro-abortion? Sometimes it felt like what you called yourself mattered more than what you said.

Abortion discussions also frequently cite Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal in the U.S. But a recent study, conducted by Pew Research Center in honor of Roe v. Wade’s monumental 40th anniversary, found that only 40% of those younger than 30 even know what the case was all about.

It’s no wonder some are intimidated by abortion debates, especially when people on both sides of the issue are so passionate about their views. But it’s a conversation that needs to happen, and it needs to move beyond the hard-edged pro-life/pro-choice sides.

At least that’s the stance Planned Parenthood has taken. The “pro-choice” organization recently announced it would remove the word “choice” from its language as part of its latest campaign, Not In Her Shoes. According to the short video they released, Planned Parenthood has said it hopes that moving beyond labels will help foster more meaningful conversations surrounding the issue.

“For many people, [abortion is] not a black and white issue,” the video says. “So why do people try to label it like it is? Pro-choice? Pro-life? The truth is these labels limit the conversation and simply don’t reflect how people actually feel about abortion.”

According to polling done on behalf of Planned Parenthood, the numbers support this idea. A 2012 poll showed that 35% of those who identified as pro-life did not want Roe v. Wade overturned. Further complicating the issue, a whopping 12% said they were both pro-choice AND pro-life, while another 12% argued they wouldn’t identify as either. (For the full polling results, visit

So are the pro-choice/pro-life monikers really working?

At a press briefing, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards said, “It’s a complicated topic and one in which labels don’t reflect the complexity.”

Feminist and women’s rights outlets have also weighed in on the issue. Amanda Marcotte wrote a great piece about it for Slate.

“I can see why Planned Parenthood might want to shed the term in order to get these conflicted people to realize they are on Planned Parenthood’s side. But I’m afraid that the desire to go label-free is doomed to fail,” Marcotte wrote. “Labels are simply part of language, and shorthand rhetoric is part of the political debate. As long as abortion is a contested issue, there’s no opting out of that.”

Over at RH Reality Check (which also has a fantastic article about Roe v. Wade) Tracy Weitz tackled the issue, too. She wrote, “Pro-choice is a political label and has nothing to do with the real stories and lives of women who have abortions.” However, Weitz also brought up the point that simply backing away from polarizing labels isn’t enough. “What’s next?” she asked.

It’s a brilliant question, and hopefully one that reproductive rights panels – like the one CWEALF attended on Jan. 17 – can delve into further. At that panel, Lt. Governor, AG George Jepsen, SOTS Denise Merrill, and Treasurer Denise Nappier all spoke candidly about what Roe v. Wade has meant not only for them personally, but for women’s rights as a whole. On Jan. 30, Planned Parenthood and CWEALF will host another discussion about abortion at Hartford’s Charter Oak Cultural Center, 5:30 p.m.

Whether you support Planned Parenthood’s decision or not, we likely can all agree that its announcement, coupled with the chatter surrounding Roe v. Wade’s anniversary, has sparked a crucial discussion. Now it’s up to us to keep the conversation going. 



Written by Crystal Maldonado. Crystal is a content developer and professional blogger by day, and a dog-mom and super-feminist by night. Follow her @crysmaldonado.

My Family, My Marriage

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There has been a lot of news coverage lately about the lack of support for same-sex couples being allowed to marry; because of this, I feel compelled to talk about my marriage, new family and my experiences.

I am in a same-sex relationship. Over a year ago, on our way to get married, my partner’s water broke, 7 weeks early. The hospital worked hard to keep our child from being born.  But one week later, Parker was born at 1.7 lbs. We spent the next few months in the NICU at UMass Memorial Hospital in Worcester.

But this isn’t a story about how well our child Parker did or is doing. Instead, I wanted to say how amazing everyone in the hospital was the entire time.  From the minute we walked in, we were met with kindness and respect – for us, our situation and our relationship.  Though I was not the birth mother, the staff was very clear I was the parent of this child. 

We went ahead and got married, at our home, with dozens of family and friends in attendance. The day we got married, we went to visit with our son at the hospital. The staff cheered and congratulated us. It was heartwarming. But besides being heartwarming, it was a huge relief.  We knew that if we were met with any staff who were opposed to our relationship that it really could have affected our ability to focus our attention on where it needed to be, on our family and our child’s health.  But instead, we were accepted, as a couple and as a family. 

I’m proud to be from Connecticut and to work at an organization such as the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF), because I was part of the effort to ensure same-sex couples could legally adopt together, then,  with Love Makes a Family, part of the effort to change the laws and the minds and hearts of so many about same-sex marriage. However, this latest controversy is a good reminder that there is still so much work to do so every same-sex family can enjoy the respect my family was shown during a very difficult time.

Written by Amy Miller. Amy Miller is the Program & Public Policy Director at CWEALF.

Contraceptives to be offered at Connecticut High School

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New London High School will be providing student’s condoms and birth control pills at the student health clinic starting March 1, 2012.  Students must have parental permission in order to receive contraceptives.

This is a great way to provide access to contraceptives for young people, many of whom are already sexually active and are at a greater risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases or becoming pregnant.   

While some critics disagree with providing contraceptives at high schools, Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund supports greater access to contraceptive healthcare.  Recently, CWEALF partnered with Planned Parenthood of Southern New England as co-facilitators on the CT Coalition for Choice, an inter-agency group dedicated to promoting reproductive choice and access. 

CWEALF is also committed to preventing teen pregnancy by working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the City of Hartford on the Hartford Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative.  As part of the grant, CWEALF is evaluating the effectiveness of teen pregnancy prevention efforts. 

Teen pregnancy prevention is important because young women who become pregnant are less likely to complete high school or go to college, which can have a negative economic impact for the rest of a woman’s life.   CWEALF is dedicated to ensuring that the well-being of young women is not negatively impacted by a lack of access to contraceptive healthcare.

Photo by Joseph Von Stengel, 3/16/07, digstem’s photostream,

Written by Carolyn Trotta.  Carolyn is a student at Central Connecticut State University and an intern at CWEALF.

Women and Engineering

It has been the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF)‘s ongoing mission to point out the need for more women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields. To do so, CWEALF coordinates STEM Expos as part of their Generating Girls’ Opportunities (G2O) Initiative. This initiative promotes and expands education opportunities for girls across the state and gives them an opportunity to explore their interest in pursuing a career in a STEM field.

Engineering can be a rewarding career path. According to this article, middle school represents the decisive time to make an appeal to young girls about pursuing a career in a STEM field.

“Middle school is a crucial decision-making time. Kids finally have the education to make their own class schedule choices, and exciting and engaging work appeals to them.”

This shows the critical impact you can have on a child’s future.  Let’s break the stereotypes. Women can be remarkable engineers. It is no longer taboo for a girl to dream of working in one of the so-called male dominated fields. Who decides that girls should only be nurses, teachers or secretaries?  Young women should learn not to be afraid to pursue a career in Engineering. We need to inspire confidence in them, because women can accomplish remarkable things. We need to have the right role models with determination and courage.

On Feb 22th Bentley Systems, Inc. Watertown, CT offices hosted their 2nd annual Engineers Week event.  The themes this year were Introduce a Girl to Engineering and Discover Engineering for Families. Here is a list of the activities that were held.

There is also a website developed specifically for middle school students to learn more about engineering, technology, math, and science. Here you can learn about new ways to promote engineering as a rewarding career choice for young women. 

It is good to take advantage of these kinds of opportunities offered by CWEALF, or any other organization, because you can offer your child a better future.

Written by Beatrix Perez. Beatrix is a volunteer at the Connecticut Women’s Education and legal fund and aspires to be a project manager.

Connecticut’s Step towards Justice for its Transgender Population

Amidst the media frenzy surrounding Caitlyn Jenner this month (who – fun fact - is a graduate of Newtown High School), Connecticut quietly joined the likes of Vermont, Rhode Island and at least five other states by adopting a law that will modernize the process for transgender people to change their birth certificate to accurately reflect their new gender. The bill, which would permit people to change the gender designation on their birth certificates by obtaining a statement from their physician or psychologist, now awaits approval from Governor Malloy, who has long been an avid supporter of transgender rights.

Connecticut policy currently requires a court order as well as an affidavit from a surgeon performing gender reassignment surgery to change a birth certificate, a law that does little to reflect an understanding of the challenges transgender people face in aligning their identified gender and documentation. The current law fails to take into account the experiences of the majority of the transgender population without the resources or celebrity of Caitlyn Jenner who are unable to undergo surgery for a variety of reasons, such as an absence of insurance coverage or a disqualifying medical condition.

The new change reflects an increasing awareness of the workings of gender dysphoria, a condition for which surgery is just one of multiple treatment options. Gender dysphoria, previously named gender identity disorder, is identified by mental anguish and distress resulting from a misalignment between an individual’s biological sex and one’s gender identity. Because relieving gender dysphoria is a highly individualized process, nonsurgical procedures are often more affordable, accessible and appropriate treatment plans.

Rather than requiring gender-confirming surgery, the change will enable transgender individuals to modify the gender marker on their birth certificates by instead providing proof of “surgical, hormonal or other treatment,” a more appropriate standard that better supports the needs of a diverse population. The bill will also align birth certificate amendment policy with requirements for changing other types of documentation in Connecticut, which surprisingly are not uniform. The bill’s requirements, for example, are the same as changing the gender indication on a Connecticut driver’s license.

The benefits don’t end there. Aside from the awkwardness of having to explain why an individual’s sex listed on his or her birth certificate does not match with the identity he or she projects, inconsistent documentation can also lead to denied employment or housing. As a result, transgender people are significantly more likely to rely on state assistance in both of these arenas. This change will lift an economic burden not only from the shoulders of transgender people, but from the state’s as well.

CWEALF, a historically strong supporter of LGBT rights, joined forces with organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union CT, Connecticut TransAdvocacy Coalition, Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), Hartford Gay & Lesbian Health Collective, National Center for Transgender Equality, Planned Parenthood Southern New England, Quinnipiac University School of Law Civil Justice Clinic, True Colors, and the UConn Rainbow Center, to advocate for the passage of the bill, An Act Concerning Birth Certificate Amendments. Its approval in both the House and Senate marks an important and progressive step towards justice for the transgender population. As one of the first states to acknowledge gender identity and expression in its laws, Connecticut achieved yet another step towards accepting people as they self-identify, especially with regard to their gender.

Madeline Granato is a social work Master’s student at the University of Connecticut and is a policy intern at the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund. 

Girls Rising

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This weekend, a wonderful documentary will be shown on CNN. The documentary is titled Girl Rising, and it tells the resilient story of 9 extraordinary girls from around the world. According to the Girl Rising website, it “showcases the strength of the human spirit and the power of education to change the world.”

                Girl’s education is extremely important to their development into strong adults. CWEALF participates in the education of girls through our G2O STEM Expos, which keep 7th grade girls interested in science, technology, engineering and math. The campaign behind the Girl Rising film, 10x10, “is a global campaign for girls’ education” that brings together multiple international organizations dedicated to improving the lives of girls everywhere.

                Girl Rising will be shown on CNN at 9pm on June 16th, and again at midnight. If you can’t take any time away this weekend to watch the film, there are a couple showings across Connecticut in the next few months. You can look them up here, or if you’re feeling bold, arrange a screening yourself! If you feel moved to do something, check out the 10x10 campaign or The Girl Effect to learn how you can help.

Written by Linda Manville Kaphaem. Linda is an intern at the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF).

Birth Control IS a real economic issue

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Pundits have bemoaned the recent media focus on the federal requirement that employers cover the costs of contraception (as a part of Obama’s Affordable Care Act), stating that “real” issues, such as the economy, are being ignored.  The controversy has centered on the fact that although churches and other places of worship were exempted from the requirement, religiously-affiliated employers were not.  (Obama subsequently rescinded the requirement to exempt these employers as well.)

But contraception IS an economic issue, or so argue several policy analysts in a recent article, and not just because birth control costs money.  Family planning itself can translate into greater earning power and stability for women.  This is especially relevant today, when women comprise 50% of the workforce, with 40% of that number serving as the primary bread winner for their family and an additional 20% sharing the responsibility with their spouses.

Family planning improves a woman’s financial stability in the following ways:

  • A woman has the opportunity to make choices about how and when to invest in her education and career.
  • A woman can make choices that will increase the chances for a healthier mother and baby, which in turn will help the financial stability of the family.
  • In the midst of difficult economic circumstances, such as limited or no health insurance or paid maternity leave, a woman can choose the best time to have her children.

Support a woman’s right to family planning and greater economic security by supporting the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF).  We work daily to advocate for sexual education and contraception for girls and women, as well as for increased  earning power once on the job market.   Moreover, the CWEALF-led Campaign for a Working Connecticut promotes investment in Connecticut’s workforce, in an effort to help girls and women find stable jobs that will provide them with, at minimum, a livable wage. 

Photo by parafia-gron on Flickr, “Monument to Pope John Paul II,” uploaded 10/30/09, Original date, 5/13/07, Creative Commons, Attribution- 2.0 Generic License (CC BY 2.0).

Written by Judy Wyman Kelly, a master’s degree student at the University of Connecticut School of Social Work. Judy is an intern at CWEALF this year.

Math Counts.

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This is the simple message that ECSU professor Jeffrey Trawick-Smith delivers in the article, “Schools Shouldn’t Subtract Math For Young Students” in the Hartford Courant on Sunday, July 15th.

Trawick-Smith presents evidence from research, and his own practice as an early childhood educator, that indicates that many early childhood programs have dedicated themselves to student’s acquisition of literacy skills. While this is an important focus, literacy development often comes at the expense of the promotion of math skills.   Trawick-Smith suggests that math needs to be at the center of childhood instruction and play and should the responsibility of both educators and parents.   Blocks, board games and puzzles strengthen abstract and concrete learning about numbers and the relationships between them. Educators are responsible for giving math education the prominence it needs; parent interactions with their children, such as (Trawick-Smith suggests) singing “Five Little Pumpkins” or counting napkins on a dinner table, need to occur with  consistency and in the “most natural of ways.”

Math is often the turf on which gender equity struggles are fought. Are girls just naturally math phobic? Do teachers and parents unintentionally broadcast gendered expectations of their daughters’ and female student’s expectations? Some research suggests that this is so. Elementary teachers’ expectations of girls (specifically, female teachers who may not be comfortable themselves teaching math) and fathers’ expectations of their daughters may affect girls’ math learning. It may be even more important to parents and educators to ensure that their daughters have hands-on, relevant experiences that consistently connect math to their daily lives. Pull out the Legos for your daughter (pink, blue or primary colored), make a space for a puzzle, count the number of blocks in the drive or walk to school; but also get to know how your daughter’s schools intend to make sure all students have strong numeracy skills to ensure their success.

At the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF), we are engaged in projects which examine the issues of math and gender; offer girls opportunities to explore math through our Girls and STEM Expos and online activities; and, connect parents and educators to important research and resources.

Written by Lucy Brakoniecki. Lucy is the Research & Evaluation Director at the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF).

DIY Divorce

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The divorce rate is on the decline, but divorce can still be a messy, difficult, and expensive process, especially for those women who do not have the resources, education, or power to advocate for themselves.  Fortunately, there is help. Connecticut offers a do-it-yourself option, and the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF) provides instruction and guidance through the Information and Referral (I&R) call-in and email line.  Candidates most suited to “pro-se” divorces are those who:

  •  Know where their spouse is;
  • Have no children (or agree on custody issues);
  • Agree on property settlement;
  • Are able to cooperate with each other with limited emotional hostility.

Additionally, in preparation for divorce you might want to follow the advice of this divorce financial strategist, who recommends putting your financial records in order, keeping track of your spending habits and expenses, and creating a financial history separate from that of your spouse (getting a credit card in your name, for example).  This strategist also suggests setting up private communication channels, such as a post office box, your own cell phone, or email account.  You also might want to reset any PINs numbers.

Pro-se divorce can help women secure a divorce without depleting the bank account.  Please call or email CWEALF’s I&R line with any questions at 1-800-479-2949.

Photo by Klearchos, “The Supreme Court,” 6/13/08,Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC by 3.0) License.

Written by Judy Wyman Kelly, a master’s degree student at the University of Connecticut School of Social Work. Judy is an intern at CWEALF this year.

Education and Training for Women & Low-Income Workers

Women and low-income workers benefit greatly from further education and training but often face barriers that make accessing such opportunities feel impossible. In addition to the tangible obstacles low-income workers face, the emotional obstacles faced as a result serve to compound the issue further. As education and legal funding organizations such as Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF) work to help women break down the barriers, general public awareness is also vital in order to assist low-income workers on a community-wide basis. Although some perceive lack of education and training as an individual issue, it is one that impacts the entire community. But with help from organizations such as CWEALF, businesses and individuals become aware of the barrier-creating issues and they can work together to solve some of these issues:

  • Overworked/Underpaid. Low-paying jobs often lead women to work multiple jobs to make ends meet. The vicious cycle of being overworked and underpaid consumes time that might otherwise be spent in training or education, which is often necessary in order to break the cycle.
  • Family Responsibilities. Caring for sick and elderly family members often results in the need to call in sick, leading to the loss of job. Because low-income families often have only themselves to rely upon, inflexible employers can place women between a rock and a hard place by forcing them to choose between work and family.
  • Childcare Issues. Lack of safe, affordable has been a long-standing issue for low-income women wishing to work or go to school.
  • Discrimination On the Job. The ongoing presence of on-the-job discrimination due to ethnicity, gender and economic status creates a barrier that carries a huge emotional impact.
  • Lack of Basic Needs. Basic needs are taken for granted by most when it comes to job hunting. But a lack of appropriate attire and transportation are real needs that prevent many women from finding and keeping a job or education.

As women and low-income workers struggle with these issues it’s easy to lose hope and allow the cycle of poverty to perpetuate. While it’s not a situation that can be changed overnight, collectively organizations, businesses and individuals can take steps to pave the way toward greater access to training and education for those who would like to find a better way in life for themselves and their families. Ideas and opportunities such as these can be instrumental in the obtainment of training and education to help women and low-income workers break free from poverty’s vicious cycle:

  • Community-Based Support Groups. Although the issue is a prevalent one, those facing the challenges of poverty often feel isolated and alone. Community-based support groups can empower women with understanding, information and vital support.
  • Business Volunteers. Many businesses seek ways to give to the community. Serving as mentors or trainers to teach basic office and workplace skills can help low-income women qualify for better-paying jobs.
  • Public Education Materials. Knowledge of basic rights can make a difference but the information must be made available to those who need it.
  • Education and Legal Advocates. Fighting to break the barriers presented by lack of education and training can be an overwhelming battle to take on alone. The support and assistance of an education and legal advocate, such as is available at CWEALF, can help address the issues faced, enabling women to participate in training and educational programs.

While it’s agreed involvement at community, business and individual levels can have a positive impact on the accessibility of training and education to low-income workers and women, it’s also clear that effective policies must be put into place to help women combat issues such as childcare, family obligations and workplace discrimination. The services provided at CWEALF can help you or someone you know break through the barriers preventing important training and education. We work with our clients to provide individualized assistance, helping you become aware of your rights and options with the goal of empowering you to change your life for the better.

R. Singh