The Power of Story: Abortion

Four years ago, during AAUW Florida’s last in-person convention, a small group of members cornered me in the hall and told me that their priest had proclaimed from the pulpit that they could not be members of both the Catholic Church and of AAUW because of our pro-choice stance. I have been told that they have since left AAUW. One of them said, while the others nodded their heads, that women seeking abortion have simply been irresponsible. I had no effective response. Now I do. The story these women believed has been carefully crafted.

When the landmark case Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, there were many stories of back-alley coat-hanger abortions performed on desperate women, and “women’s lib” was a compelling story for many. Now, those stories have faded away, and there has been an onslaught of state attempts to limit abortion and challenge Roe. What has caused this? I submit that groups of people who firmly believe that life begins at conception, and that that life must be preserved no matter the consequences to the person carrying it, have conducted an intensive and focused campaign to change the story. First, they labeled themselves “pro-life”, even though they are not concerned with the life of the person carrying the fetus. Many appear to strongly believe that a woman’s destiny is to bear children and she will be happier if she does that. They have already written the story of every person with a uterus. 

Rather than “fetus,” they name that tiny potential life a “baby”, even if it is merely a fertilized egg. If pressed, some will admit that they do not accept contraception because it prevents the fulfillment of that life potential. Recently, they have promoted laws that prohibit abortion if a “fetal heartbeat” can be detected, without making it clear that what they are talking about is not an actual heart beating but an electrical impulse. Choosing the term “heartbeat” is consistent with their story: abortion kills a baby. No one wants to kill a baby! On Interstate 10 as you drive toward Tallahassee from the east, billboards line the road featuring pictures of six-month-old children with various heart-wrenching pleas for life. This is how they have successfully made us all cringe when we hear the term “abortion”. But it is a reverse image of the propaganda in World War II posters depicting the enemy as subhuman. The enemy were human beings, and a 28 week fetus is not a baby.

Recent popular fiction glorifies the person who decides to keep a pregnancy in spite of all odds. There’s lots of human interest in the interactions that result, and a lovely ending with a bouncing baby that everyone loves. But if a woman chooses abortion, another story commences. What are those stories? 

In September 2021, three US congresswomen told their stories of abortion. Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri said she was raped on a church youth trip. Rep. Barbara Lee of California said she received a “back-alley” abortion in Mexico after a teenage pregnancy. And Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington said she opted for an abortion after being told her pregnancy would be high risk for her and the baby.

You may read more stories on these sites:


And there is

In a recent op-ed in the Florida Times-Union, the board of Jacksonville NOW cited the majority opinion that abortion should be legal, and asked those in agreement to speak up. I agree. AAUW’s public policy calls for for “self-determination of women’s reproductive health decisions.”

Equity in Education: Be Vigilant

If you are an AAUW member, you probably proclaim that you are interested in education. Perhaps you give money for scholarships. Now is the time for you to take an interest in the actual content of education in the context of AAUW’s policy of equity in education. Governor DeSantis approved new civics education standards that exclude discussion of systemic racism and promote, in my opinion, what we used to call “jingoism”. Equity calls for the stories of previously excluded people to be taught.

The Florida Department of Education’s fear of dangerous ideas goes way back. When I was in high school in Gainesville Florida, the state decided that perhaps we should learn something about communism, a very dangerous idea that we might fall victim to if it were taught indiscriminately. So they produced a movie series that seniors were allowed to watch in the auditorium, called “Americanism versus Communism”. Now might be a good time for the state to produce another video series, “Americanism versus Critical Race Theory”. After all, who knows what kids might pick up on the outside that might suggest to them that the promises of liberty and justice for all really did not apply to everyone?

Instead, they have produced a new civics education curriculum that is quite rigorous in its promotion of an absolutely laudatory understanding of all American institutions and practices. The student is to understand the advantages of limited government, capitalism, and the influence of Hebraic and Christian religion on America’s founding ideas.  The words “slave” and “slavery” are not found in the standards. The word “native” is found only in a context that praises the government for granting rights to Native Americans, among other “groups”. Any fault in granting civil rights to these groups was remedied: “Explain how the principles contained in foundational documents contributed to the expansion of civil rights and liberties over time.” Much attention is paid to those foundational documents, but no mention is made of the Constitution’s compromises that perpetuated slavery and denied rights to women.

In my graduate work I learned the maxim that it is the victors who write the histories. We cannot allow the political victors to write, for their own benefit, the history that students will learn in school. We have scholars and journalists nowadays who are willing to dig and learn the histories of people who were left out of official accounts. Florida Rep. Ramon Alexander (D-8) collected a list of ten “pieces of factual Florida history” that have been left out: slavery and the role of enslaved laborers in building our monuments, systematic racism (Jim Crow, redlining, mortgage discrimination), two destroyed towns, and examples of lynchings and vigilante retaliation. One example of the latter, the Jacksonville Ax Handle Saturday “riot,” has recently been the subject of reexamination and apology from the Times-Union for its biased coverage of the events in 1960.

I urge all AAUW members and others who are concerned with equity in education to be alert to potential negative impacts from the new standards. Watch particularly for disciplinary actions taken against teachers who may defy the restrictive standards and try to teach what actually happened: to tell the stories that were suppressed or deceptively reported. And support teachers who promote actual critical thinking rather than acceptance of dogma.

AAUW Membership

Starting April 7, 2021, AAUW members will vote on a proposed bylaw change providing that membership shall be open to anyone who supports our mission. I wish to share with you my journey in regard to this controversial topic.

The last time AAUW open membership was proposed, I voted against it (a blog post on this appeared Feb. 27, 2018). This was because 1) a friend who was a member of the national Lobby Corps told me that she felt strongly that being “highly educated women” gave them more credibility in the halls of Congress, and 2) with the increasing number of women in the United States to hold at least a two-year college degree, it did not seem necessary to expand the pool of those eligible to join AAUW.

During one of the recent national discussions of the proposed change in membership requirements, I asked if there was any truth to what my friend in the Lobby Corps had told me. The panelist said no: what legislators care most about is whether or not you are eligible to vote for them. This was a “duh” moment for me. My years of experience in advocating for AAUW legislative priorities persuade me that the panelist was right. Perhaps it gave my friend more self-confidence to hold a degree, but a woman’s self-confidence comes from the sum of her qualities, not from just one. AAUW’s research and legislative advisory capability should give us confidence in approaching legislators.

As for the pool of potential AAUW members, it is indeed large enough as it is. I have repeatedly emphasized that the battle for college degrees for women has been won. But the question is whether it is diverse enough. The research recently commissioned by AAUW of Florida showed that fewer women of color hold degrees than white women: while 41% of white women hold at least an Associate degree, and therefore are qualified for AAUW membership under current requirements, only 23% of Black women and 28% of Hispanic women would qualify. In addition, we learned that 66% of black women and 57% of Hispanic women live below the level of economic security for their family type.

So shouldn’t we encourage these women to get a college degree? According to the Florida State College in Jacksonville (FSCJ) website, “Twelve credits, which is considered a “full-time” load for a semester, cost $1,259 for Florida resident students. Figure in your book costs at about $80 per credit hour, and you are looking at a total bill of about $2,219 for a full-time semester.” Of course, there’s financial aid. I used FSCJ’s net price calculator to estimate cost for a 35-year-old single mother with two children, earning less than $30,000 per year. She received $3,101 in financial aid. The cost was $15,203 including $10,396 for room and board. So if we subtract the room and board, we get $4,807. That is still too much for this woman!

If we want to help all women and girls with diversity, equity, inclusion, and economic security, we need not hold ourselves above the ones who need help. We might gain valuable insights from the people who are experiencing economic challenges and inequity. Moreover, we might be seen as working together rather than swooping down from above to be “saviors”. Our national Strategic Plan 2.0 calls for an increased emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion. While education remains an area of emphasis, that area is focused on equity, access, and freedom from sex discrimination at every educational level. 

We have been told by national board members that it is becoming more difficult to secure corporate grants when we are seen as exclusionary. Those grants have enabled us to maintain and expand Start Smart, Work Smart, NCCWSL, our research publications, and our lobby and policy advisory activity. We have been told that member dues cover only 15% of an already reduced budget and dramatically reduced staff. We need those grants if we are to retain and strengthen our position as a national force for equity for women and girls.

AAUW Can Promote the Knowledge that Makes Democracy Possible

AAUW was founded by women who were looking for equal opportunity to attain higher education, meaning to learn from the best minds and to participate in discussion at a high intellectual level. When they were told that this higher education would impair their fertility, they knew better than to believe such misinformation, and they sought and found evidence to counter it.

AAUW members may disagree, but the  one thing we have never lost sight of is the value of knowledge. We understand how knowledge is gained and transmitted, with students of science, human behavior and society building on the foundations of their predecessors. We understand the value of evidence, which sometimes requires rejecting previously accepted knowledge because of new discoveries. We understand the importance of accurate observation, and the difference between factual reporting and deception.

In a democratic society, decision-making can only be as good as the information available to the voters. But today we are seeing significant challenges to good information and to the capacity for evaluating the quality of what flows through our many feeds.

As important as our vision, “Equity for All” is for our country today, even more important may be “Knowledge for All”. With our almost 140 years of history promoting knowledge, it would seem that AAUW is uniquely equipped to help our fellow citizens gain reliable information and exercise critical thinking. We need to try to find ways to promote these things in our communities, schools, and organizations.

I call on Tech Trek and other STEM projects to teach as much as possible of the thought processes of science and how scientific conclusions are reached. Science can offer us more than just a way for women to achieve economic security. It also offers a model of knowledge building that, at its best, is tireless and selfless in expanding horizons. Again, at its best, it does not respect ethnic and national prejudices: a good example has been provided by the international search for a COVID-19 vaccine.

Scientific knowledge is not the only kind. We also need knowledge about other people not like us and cultures that are not our own. It is the humanities that imparts this kind of knowledge most effectively. Stories are powerful because they can place us in an unfamiliar context and help us understand the motivations and values of people we would not encounter in our daily life. But stories can also be powerful when promulgated by those who seek to gain power by promoting the belief that people not like them are threats to their way of life. I call on all of us to find ways to spread the right kinds of stories, those that promote diversity, equity and inclusion.

AAUW stands for nonpartisan, fact-based integrity. Like those founding women, let us reject harmful misinformation and promote the knowledge necessary for a healthy democracy.

Why should you be a part of AAUW?

The national AAUW Board of Directors has studied the financial position and obligations of AAUW as well as its strategic goals. At its October 16, 2020, meeting, the AAUW Board voted to increase Individual Member dues for the next three years. The dues will rise by $3 for Fiscal Year (FY) 2022, $5 for FY 2023 and $5 for FY 2024, making the total dues amount for those years $62, $67 and $72, respectively. All but $3 of annual dues remains tax deductible.

Now that we know what the dues increase will be, each member will have to make a decision. It is the same decision you make for every expenditure: first, can you afford it, and second, is what you’re getting for your money worth it? We don’t want anyone to give up food and medicine for AAUW. But if you can afford it, is it worth the additional $3-$10 to you to belong to a national organization that promotes equity for women and girls?

In order to make this decision properly, you need to be familiar with what national AAUW does. When was the last time you looked at the AAUW national website? It has been updated. For example, you can view the recording of the Sept. 22 Town Hall, when Kimberly Churches discussed AAUW’s financial position, here (scroll way down)

Is it important to you that AAUW takes public positions on matters of national importance that impact women and girls?

Is it important to you that AAUW commissions groundbreaking research like this study co-authored by Dr. Mary Gatta?

Is it important to you that AAUW has well-qualified professional leadership? Two examples: Kimberly Churches, who has been a transformative leader; and Kate Nielson, who has helped us write state legislation and continues to advise on our legislative priorities from a lawyer’s perspective.

Is it important to you that AAUW has acquired the rights and sponsorships for a leading online training program in salary negotiation, Work Smart?

I haven’t even included the resources for branches that are available on the website to help you organize and advocate.

Do you want to belong to a nonpartisan national organization with AAUW’s mission, history, and authoritative reputation? Check out the press notices.

If you just want to have lunch with friends, any dues are too much. But if you want to be a part of the national quest to advance equity for women and girls, it will take a long-term commitment.

The decision will be yours.

A Letter on Florida Proposed Constitutional Amendment 2

We often hear of job growth, but what we don’t hear is whether these jobs pay a living wage. Amendment 2 would raise the minimum wage in Florida to $15 over six years. Twenty-seven states have raised their minimum wage since 2014. 

What is a living wage? AAUW Florida recently commissioned studies on the economic security of Florida retired, Hispanic, and Black women. These studies use realistic estimates of living expenses based on locality and family type, and include some retirement and emergency savings. Many of these women are not economically secure.

A single mother with one preschooler and one child in school, in a job without benefits, needs $60,420 annually, not including extras such as Internet, which is almost a necessity for that student. Our studies found that women of color tend to be concentrated in such occupations. The current minimum wage provides only $17,800 annually.

How can she survive on $8.56 per hour? Food stamps, friends and family, a second job, and skimping. An hourly wage of $15 might enable her to skimp less, improving the health and security of her family.

But won’t a $15 minimum wage destroy jobs and businesses? Not according to numerous economic studies. Check out the myths and facts about minimum wage increases at

AAUW members and branches: Click the link below for more talking points on Amendment 2.

Black Women’s Equal Pay Day

Kay Smith, Director for Public Policy, and Pat DeWitt have put together some materials for branches to use in raising awareness of Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, August 13. As Mary Gatta’s research has shown,  Black women in Florida are concentrated in occupations where they are on the front lines of the pandemic, and yet they are economically insecure. These circumstances present us with the opportunity to raise awareness of the need for a higher minimum wage and paid sick leave for all workers.

These materials include suggested letters to newspapers and other outlets, as well as infographics for use in social media. In addition, you may wish to forward Mary Gatta’s report or its executive summary to your local decision-makers  with a note about Black Women’s Equal Pay Day.

This would also be a great time to forward a link to Mary Gatta’s video presentation on her research to other organizations in your community.

Create your own messaging using the examples below, and get the word out! (Note: clicking on these links will download the documents)

Noteworthy Findings from Gatta Research–create your own letter!

Letter example: 268 words.

Brief (241 words) fact-intensive letter.

Longer (337 words) fact-intensive letter.

Infographics (ZIP file)

Proclamation for Mayor/City Manager/County Commission etc.

Lessons Learned from Women Suffragists

Did you think all the battles for women’s influence on government happened in the past? Did you think the tactics of the suffragists aren’t relevant today? If any such thoughts have crossed your mind, please continue to read.

In honor of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, Kimble Medley, Florida Women’s Vote Centennial chair, has dedicated herself to uncovering the history of suffragists in Florida and in particular in Flagler County. She challenges us not only to discover the history of suffragists in our own area, but to follow their example of rational argumentation, fearless advocacy, cultivation of intelligence, and tenacity. We have many tools for our advocacy that were not available to the suffragists, and yet they prevailed.

View Kimble’s complete presentation on Vimeo . Then use the following bibliography, keyed to the presentation, to learn more.

IntroductionHewitt, Nancy. “Varieties of Women’s Suffrage”. Florida Humanities Council. Vol. XVIII, No. 3, Winter 1995/1996. p. 22-27.
FloridaTaylor, A. Elizabeth. “The Woman Suffrage Movement in Florida”. The Florida Historical Quarterly. Vol. 36,No. 1, July 1957, p. 42 – 60. 
 Weatherford, Doris. “A New Century, 1901-1920”. They Dared to Dream. University Press of Florida: Gainesville. 2015.
 Shaw, Anna Howard. “The Fundamental Principle of a Republic”. Gifts of Speech. June 21, 1915.
 Terborg-Penn, Rosalyn. African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850-1920. Indiana University Press. Bloomington: IN. 1998. p. 21-40. 
Silent Sentinels“Detailed Chronology National Woman’s Party History”. The Library of Congress | American Memory. 25 October 2018.
 Taylor, A. Elizabeth. “The Woman Suffrage Movement in Florida”. The Florida Historical Quarterly. Vol. 36,No. 1, July 1957, p. 53-54. 
More Florida SuffragistsVance, Linda. “May Mann Jennings”. Forum: The Magazine of the Florida Humanities Council. Vol. XVIII, No. 3, Winter 1995/1996. p. 10-15.
 Hewitt, Nancy. “Varieties of Women’s Suffrage”. Florida Humanities Council. Vol. XVIII, No. 3, Winter 1995/1996. p. 22-27.
 “Blanche Armwood”. 
 Wright, E. Lynne. “Mary McLeod Bethune 1875-1955: Daughter of Slaves, Advisor to Presidents”. More Than Petticoats: Remarkable Florida Women. Guilford, CT: The Global  Pequot Press, 2001, 31-42. 
Earlier Women’s AdvocatesE. Susan Barber. “One Hundred Years Toward Suffrage: An Overview”. National Park Service.
 “The Women of the Boston Tea Party”. Metolius Artisan Tea. August 28, 2017.
 “Detailed Chronology National Woman’s Party History”. The Library of Congress | American Memory. 25 October 2018.
 Abbott, Alice Scott. “To the Dear Women of Flagler County:”. The Flagler Tribune. October 7, 1920. 
 “Interlachen”. The Palatka News and Advertiser. The Library of Congress – Chronicling America Historic American Newspapers. June 26, 1914, pg. 5, Image 5. 

Racism and Economic Insecurity

In this time of national crisis, AAUW National has taken a strong stand against systemic racism, and AAUW Florida has followed suit (see below). As AAUW, we call for justice and equity for all. But our primary and special mission is equity for women and girls. Amid the concern for so many Black men unjustly killed, we need to remember that economic security for women of color will benefit everyone in their communities.

We know that economic insecurity leads to poorer health outcomes and consequently a greater susceptibility to diseases, not limited to COVID-19.  Economic insecurity adds significantly to the stress level of Black women, who are already stressed by the social situation and the coronavirus pandemic. It has also been shown that stress itself contributes to poor health outcomes.

Working black women were the topic of Dr. Mary Gatta’s most recent reportWorking Black Women in Florida and Economic Insecurity: A Story of Gender and Racial Inequality. She found that “Black women experience the highest levels of economic insecurity in Florida, relative to other race/sex groups. In the state, 61% of all Black workers are economically insecure. And among Black workers in Florida, 66% of all Black women and half of Black full-time working women do not earn enough to reach economic security for their family type.”

We need to consider how we can most effectively promote the policy recommendations from this report:

  • Address gender and race inequities in the Florida labor market including the gender/race pay gap and occupational segregation. 
  • Invest in leadership programs for girls and women to enter gender and race nontraditional careers. 
  • Increase opportunities for professional development and awareness of gender and race bias in education and careers. 
  • Raise the minimum wage and subminimum tipped wage in Florida. 
  • Address childcare barriers that impact mothers’ labor market participation
  • Provide paid leave and paid sick days to all Florida workers. 
  • Address and remedy sex, gender and race-based harassment in occupations. 
  • Provide financial planning for Florida girls and women. 

AAUW Florida joins the country in mourning the recent losses of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, as well as the many earlier losses that have included Floridians like Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis.  These and countless other people of color have been unjustly killed across our nation because of systemic racism and persistent attitudes that Black and Brown communities are less deserving of basic human and civil rights.   

These deaths reflect deeply ingrained, long-standing divisions in our society. And they come at a time when the pandemic has given rise to hate around the world, with rampant acts of violence across the nation, and the spread of misinformation, racial stereotyping and fear. 

As an organization, we feel compelled to condemn injustice and discrimination and to reaffirm our commitment to live by our values and cultivate an organization that makes equality, diversity and openness priorities – an organization that sets an example for the greater community. 

Therefore, we pledge to advocate for racial equality; petition our policy makers to focus on the range of actions needed to respond directly to race and gender biases; and support our National organization’s efforts in advancing policies and systemic changes that address public safety, effective community policing, and racial and economic oppression.   

Signed:Patricia Ross, President, AAUW Florida, Kayester Lee-Smith, Director for Public Policy, Patricia DeWitt, President-Elect

Advocate for Fair Pay Legislation in Florida!

AAUW of Florida has an urgent request for your advocacy in the pay equity area, and you don’t even have to leave home! We need you to write a physical letter or email from your own address next week if possible. The Florida legislative session is short and committees will stop meeting in a few weeks. We have been advised that mass emails are usually simply deleted, so personal messages are of great importance.

The “ask” of your message will be: “Please schedule House Bill 739 (or recommend it for scheduling) for a hearing in the Business and Professions Subcommittee as soon as possible.” This bill has been filed for the fourth time in the Florida legislature, and it has never been heard in committee. It would have to be favorably reported out of three committees before it could reach the House floor, but the first step is a hearing in the first committee to which it has been assigned.

Please write a personal message to the chair of the committee, Representative Heather Fitzenhagen; the vice chair, Representative Amber Mariano; and the Speaker of the House, José Oliva. If the Speaker says not to schedule the bill, it will not be scheduled. Addresses are below.

House Bill 739 and its companion Senate Bill 90 provide the following protections:

  • Employers can’t retaliate against individuals involved in legal proceedings to enforce the law
  • Employers can’t retaliate against employees who discuss wages
  • Employers can’t reduce another employee’s pay to comply
  • Employers can’t request salary history
  • Employers can’t provide less favorable career opportunities based on sex

In addition, employer defenses are clarified: they must be job-related and agreement for a lesser wage is not a defense. The law, if passed, would apply to all employees including those covered by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (which has fewer protections).


  • I am requesting a hearing in the Business and Professions Subcommittee for HB 739, Discrimination in Labor and Employment. (this doesn’t have to come first–use your own thoughts, but do include it somewhere).
  • Include some of the talking points in the documents listed above (Pay Equity Florida for Legislators, Further fair pay talking points)
  • Thank the Chair/Vice Chair/Speaker for their attention and work for the people of Florida.

Thank you for being an advocate for women’s economic security in Florida.

Pat DeWitt, AAUW Florida President-elect and Economic Security Chair

%d bloggers like this: