The new women's agenda on Smith Hill

For years, there has been a stand-off on social issues on Smith Hill. The General Assembly's leadership has, for the most part, blocked votes on controversial issues like abortion and gay marriage in an attempt to keep the peace between liberals and conservatives.

The stalemate has frustrated partisans on both sides. But they know there is a danger in attempting a breakthrough - push hard for a vote on your bill, advocates fear, and leadership is sure to allow a vote on a bill from the other side.

Well, this session there was an interesting, if little-noticed attempt by progressives to work around that stalemate - to move beyond abortion and make the "women's agenda" something that could appeal to moderates and even some pro-lifers. At the heart of that thrust, two bills: one that would prevent insurance companies from charging women more for individual health plans (a similar provision is in President Obama's healthcare bill, currently facing a Supreme Court challenge) and another that would expand family planning services (birth control and exams) and, potentially, prevent unwanted pregnancies.

The bills fell short this year. And it seems entirely possible that pro-life forces on Smith Hill would interpret the family planning measure as a pro-choice bill and demand equal time for a proposal of their own.

But this is a push - a reframing - worth watching. 

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