You’ve come a long way, baby

You’ve come a long way, baby

The politics of progress: The battle is never over, says Loretta Weinberg

Shortly after her first grandchild was born in 2003, then-Assemblywoman Loretta Weinberg was on the Assembly floor when a call came in from her clearly exhausted daughter.

“I was so torn,” said Weinberg, now a state senator (D-37). “I asked myself, why am I here when I should be there?”

Still, she pointed out, it’s seven years later now “and all three of us” – mother, child, and politician/grandmother – “have survived.”

To some extent, the Teaneck resident said, there will always be gender obstacles for women, “a constant push and pull. I am not a fervent believer in the idea that you can have it all. Many of us are wives and mothers. Something gets sacrificed along the way.”

At the beginning of her career as an elected official, “there were always [gender] issues.”

The often unspoken view was “You’re a woman, so why are you there? Or you’re here because women are good vote-getters, but don’t expect to rise in the leadership.”

While things have changed a lot in the state, she said – there is a woman speaker in the Assembly and a female majority leader in the Senate – even when the new speaker, Sheila Oliver, was elected, there was clearly discomfort in certain quarters.

According to Weinberg, some legislators suggested that there would really be a man behind the scenes calling the shots and that “this guy will really run things. Don’t expect her to make the decisions.'”

This despite the fact that “she’s shown herself to be perfectly capable of making decisions and being a leader,” said Weinberg.

Surveying improvements made in women’s lives through legislation over the past several decades, Weinberg said, “We’ve made tremendous progress, but vigilance is always necessary.”

For example, she asked, “Who thought in the second decade of the 21st century that we’d still be having a discussion on a woman’s right to use birth control?”

Yet, she explained, recent comments on the floor of the state Senate have called that right into question.

In a discussion centering on Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed budget- which eliminates funding for the state’s 58 family-planning centers – Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-Morris) took issue with testimony that family planning clinics saved the state money last year by preventing nearly 40,000 unintended pregnancies.

“He said those are children that should have been born,” said Weinberg, noting that cutting funding for the family planning centers, which often provide primary health care for women, effectively limits poor women’s access to birth control as well as other vital services.

Weinberg did say that many issues concerning women’s health, such as mammograms, “would not have been discussed in the same manner 25 to 30 years ago as they are now.”

She considers her successful fight to require insurance companies to pay for at least 48 hours of hospital care for new mothers a “turning point” in her own career and for women’s issues, and family issues as a whole.

“We’ve taken some [long] strides, but there’s still a lot more to go,” she said. “The battle is never over. Just when you think you’ve won it, someone is ready to move the clock back.”

Sen. Loretta Weinberg
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