50 Best to Worst States for Women: States 36-40

Missouri

The Lowdown

Missouri has passed some great laws for women, but the state’s image is tarnished by rules that limit a woman’s choice.

The Good News

The Show-Me state is showing breastfeeding moms some love: by law, hospitals must provide new moms breastfeeding consultations and obstetricians must tout the benefits of nursing to their patients. And in 2011, legislators updated Missouri’s domestic violence law for the first time in 40 years to protect women from stalkers and strengthen orders of protection.

The Bad News

Childcare assistance is hard to come by -- families have to earn less than $24,000 to qualify. Average earnings are $32,841, only 26 percent of women have a four-year degree and only 26 percent of businesses are female owned. Women hold only 41 out of 163 seats in the state house, and seven of those women were denied a chance to speak before a vote on a resolution condemning the federal mandate that health insurance companies, regardless of religious affiliation, include birth-control in their coverage plans. Tight restrictions and the fact that there are just six abortion providers in the entire state limit choice for women.

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Prohibitionist Carry Nation, who marched into saloons armed with bricks and a hatchet, was instrumental in generating public support for the constitutional amendment that banned alcohol. She was raised in Missouri and spent part of her adult life there.

= 3.4

North Dakota

The Lowdown

“Women in Power” is a foreign term in North Dakota, both in politics and business.

The Good News

Nearly 90 percent of women have health insurance and more than three-quarters of women get regular exercise. A district court judge struck down a state law that would have made abortions even harder to get by banning medication that ends a pregnancy. North Dakota has only one clinic that provides abortions and a quarter of all abortions are by prescription medication rather than a surgical procedure.

The Bad News

North Dakota has only ever sent one woman to congress, Sen. Jocelyn Birch Burdick, and she only served for one year in 1992. Just 15 percent of the state legislature is female, one of the country’s lowest proportions. And only one in four businesses is woman-owned, putting North Dakota in the bottom five of all states.

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When she retired in 1990, state Rep. Brynhild Haugland had earned the distinction of longest-serving state legislator in the nation, casting more than 22,000 votes during her 52-year career.

Score = 3.3

Texas

The Lowdown

Nearly one in three Texas women cannot afford to get sick because she lacks health insurance.

The Good News

More than 600,000 Texas businesses -- 28 percent overall -- are run by women, which matches the national average. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX) fills one of the state’s two U.S. Senate seats and three out of 32 House seats are filled by women. And Texas loves babies -- the state has one of the highest fertility rates in the country, second only to Utah and tied with Alaska.

The Bad News

Texas has the highest percentage of uninsured women in the country: 30 percent, which is seven times that of the state with the best coverage, Massachusetts (just 4 percent). That statistic makes this next fact even more dire: After Texas voted to de-fund Planned Parenthood, the federal government in March cited the state for discrimination against clinics and cut off all family planning-related Medicaid funding to the state. Since the federal government provides the bulk of Medicaid funding, now low-income women have even less access to contraception and preventive screenings. Women wanting an abortion must submit to an ultrasound during which providers are required to describe the image on the screen. And what about new moms who want to pump breast milk at work? Doing so got one Texas woman fired. And when she sued, a judge recently said pumping was not covered by laws prohibiting pregnancy discrimination. After all, she was no longer pregnant. Fortunately the state now has a law requiring employers to provide adequate break time for nursing moms, a requirement backed up by the Affordable Care Act.

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Sandra Day O’Connor, of El Paso, Texas, was the country’s first female Supreme Court justice. And former Texas Governor Ann Richards, who delivered the Democratic keynote address in 1988 and went on to lead the Democratic National Convention, was born in Lakeview, Texas.

= 3.2

South Dakota

The Lowdown

South Dakota needs more women in power, both in the workplace, the state capital and in Washington.

The Good News

Childcare here is among the cheapest in the nation: $5,750 annually for an infant. A family of three making $33,779 per year qualifies for childcare assistance, and considering women earn an average of $30,876 annually, many single moms could qualify. The state’s only seat in the House of Representatives is held by a woman: Kristi Noem (R-SD). South Dakota’s health insurance rate is higher than the national average (84 percent vs. 81 percent).

The Bad News

Only 22 percent of of businesses are female run, the country’s worst number. Women hold just 20 percent of the seats in the state legislature and they’ve never had a female governor. The state’s last female U.S. senator served for a single year: 1948. For women seeking an abortion, South Dakota passed a law requiring the longest waiting period between consultation and procedure: 72 hours, which is on hold pending the outcome of multiple lawsuits. (In Utah, the state legislature passed a similar law that would require a woman wait 72 hours after seeing a doctor before having an abortion. It is awaiting the governor’s signature.) And in February, state legislators passed a law requiring mandatory counseling (some call it biased) that includes a doctor asking questions about how a woman’s age and religious views might have played into her decision.

Hear Us Roar

Laura Ingalls Wilder, who brought the pioneer life alive for a generation of readers through her “Little House” book series, lived in De Smet, S.D., as a child through the early years of her marriage. Five of the Little House books take place there.

= 3.1

Tennessee

The Lowdown

Tennessee women have to start taking time for themselves -- namely to get healthier, start businesses and run for office.

The Good News

Childcare is affordable -- $5,850 annually for an infant and new moms can get four months unpaid leave from their jobs after giving birth. That’s a month longer than guaranteed by the federal Family Medical Leave Act. And Tennessee’s constitution goes even further than the U.S. Constitution to protect a woman’s right to choose.

The Bad News

The Tennessee state legislature is considering a bill that would reveal the names of physicians who perform abortions and make public demographic information about women who have had abortions. In politics, Tennessee has never had a female U.S. senator or governor, although two out of nine House seats are now held by women. The state legislature is only 18 percent female. Only 36 percent of women maintain a healthy weight and 31 percent don’t exercise. And when it comes to getting that bachelor’s degree, just 23 percent of women have walked across the stage compared with a national average of 28 percent. That fact carries over to salary numbers: median earnings are just $31,854, 13 percent lower than the national average of $36,551.

Hear Us Roar

Tennessee native Wilma Rudolph was deemed the “fastest woman in the world” in 1960, a time when a woman’s speed was based on how fast she could get dinner on the table. She overcame illness as a child -- including polio that left her unable to use her left leg -- as well as the challenges of race and gender to elevate the status of women in track and field by winning three Olympic gold medals.

= 3.0
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