News Law and Policy

After Hobby Lobby, Democratic Legislators Push Anew for Equal Rights Amendment

Emily Crockett

Democratic legislators and women's rights advocates called out the Supreme Court as they rallied to pass an amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing equal rights to women.

Leah Meredith had worked hard at Geico for four years and gotten several promotions, and she was up for another promotion when she got pregnant. It was a difficult pregnancy, she said, and although by the third trimester she could barely walk, she still kept up her work. But when she was called into a meeting right before she took maternity leave, she was advised that she would not be receiving her promotion. She filed a pregnancy discrimination complaint with human resources, and they said they would investigate.

After she came back from the four months of leave she needed to heal and bond with her daughter, Meredith said, “[the] response was that there was no response. They weren’t sure what my position would be. I had no desk, and my items were packed in broken boxes.”

Pregnancy discrimination on the job is common to this day, despite laws intended to prevent it, and that’s just one of many reasons to ratify an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the U.S. Constitution, said Democratic legislators and women’s rights advocates at a Thursday morning rally in front of the Supreme Court.

“The Supreme Court has made clear that women are not necessarily considered equal in the Constitution,” said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) at the rally. Speier has introduced a resolution in the House that would make it easier to ratify the ERA.

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Choosing the Supreme Court as a protest location rather than, say, Congress, sent the message that the 14th Amendment isn’t always enough to uphold women’s equality in the highest court of the land. A sitting Supreme Court justice, Antonin Scalia, has said outright that the Constitution does not explicitly protect women: “Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t.”

The Hobby Lobby decision was fresh in the mind of many speakers, who said it enables sex discrimination because religious employers can effectively force women to pay more for medical care. The Affordable Care Act marks the first time that insurers are not allowed to “charge [a woman] more and give her less,” said Feminist Majority Foundation president Eleanor Smeal, noting that before the ACA passed, women were discriminated against by because they were charged 50 percent more than men and because 80 percent of individual policies did not cover maternity care.

Speakers pointed to the Court’s 100-foot buffer zone as an example of both hypocrisy and unfairness to women, given the recent McCullen v. Coakley decision striking down a 35-foot buffer zone that protected women from protesters at reproductive health clinics. And the 2000 U.S. v. Morrison case, which struck down part of the Violence Against Women Act, was held up as an example of why women need stronger constitutional protections when local courts or schools fail to adequately address sexual violence.

With an ERA, Speier said, women would no longer have to prove not only that an offense occurred, but that it was an intentional act of discrimination. “No longer would legal arguments for women be doubly burdened,” she said.

The ERA was introduced in Congress every session from 1923 to 1972, when it was finally passed. Thirty-five states ratified it, three short of the threshold needed to be included in the Constitution, but conservative campaigns against the ERA stalled its momentum. It failed to reach 38 states before the 1979 deadline that Congress had imposed when the amendment was introduced, and failed again before 1982 when the deadline was extended. 

The amendment has been reintroduced every year since 1982, as it has this year in the House by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-CA). But a newer strategy, called the “three-state strategy,” has been to try to get Congress to repeal the time restriction on ratifying the amendment. If passed, HJR 113 and SJR 15 would count the ratification votes passed in 35 states between 1972 and 1977, and only three more states would need to get on board for the amendment to be ratified. Illinois is scheduled to vote on the ERA in November, potentially making it state number 36.

A 2012 poll found that 91 percent of Americans supported a Constitutional guarantee of equal rights for men and women. In fact, said Feminist Majority Foundation president Eleanor Smeal, “Most people think we already have one!”

Advocates and legislators said they intend to make the ERA a campaign issue. “We could easily pass it next year if the women and like minded men in this upcoming election would make it a fundamental principle that they will not vote for any candidate who does not say and believe that equal means equal, not in rhetoric, but in the Constitution of the United States, for women and men,” Maloney said.  

Attendees of the rally dressed as Rosie the Riveter, echoing another protest this year urging President Obama to pass a federal “Good Jobs” policy. The army of Rosies who took over men’s jobs when they went to war, speakers said, were paid the same wage as the men they replaced—but even that much is sometimes a challenge today.

“We have had to fight, and fight, and lose, and fight, and lose, and get up and fight again, and win, and have it cut back, and fight again, and do it over and over and over and over again,” said Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, at the rally. “If we had an Equal Rights Amendment, we wouldn’t have to be spending all of our resources, and all of our energy, and all of our attention, just getting to a little bit more of equality.”

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (R-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

News Abortion

Parental Notification Law Struck Down in Alaska

Michelle D. Anderson

"The reality is that some young women face desperate circumstances and potentially violent consequences if they are forced to bring their parents into their reproductive health decisions," said Janet Crepps, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights. "This law would have deprived these vulnerable women of their constitutional rights and put them at risk of serious harm."

The Alaska Supreme Court has struck down a state law requiring physicians to give the parents, guardians, or custodians of teenage minors a two-day notice before performing an abortion.

The court ruled that the parental notification law, which applies to teenagers younger than 18, violated the Alaska Constitution’s equal protection guarantee and could not be enforced.

The ruling stems from an Anchorage Superior Court decision that involved the case of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands and physicians Dr. Jan Whitefield and Dr. Susan Lemagie against the State of Alaska and the notification law’s sponsors.

In the lower court ruling, a judge denied Planned Parenthood’s requested preliminary injunction against the law as a whole and went on to uphold the majority of the notification law.

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Planned Parenthood and the physicians had appealed that superior court ruling and asked for a reversal on both equal protection and privacy grounds.

Meanwhile, the State of Alaska and the notification law’s sponsors appealed the court’s decision to strike some of its provisions and the court’s ruling.

The notification law came about after an initiative approved by voters in August 2010. The law applied to “unemancipated, unmarried minors” younger than 18 seeking to terminate a pregnancy and only makes exceptions in documented cases of abuse and medical emergencies, such as one in which the pregnant person’s life is in danger.

Justice Daniel E. Winfree wrote in the majority opinion that the anti-choice law created “considerable tension between a minor’s fundamental privacy right to reproductive choice and how the State may advance its compelling interests.”

He said the law was discriminatory and that it could unjustifiably burden “the fundamental privacy rights only of minors seeking pregnancy termination, rather than [equally] to all pregnant minors.”

Chief Justice Craig Stowers dissented, arguing that the majority’s opinion “unjustifiably” departed from the Alaska Supreme Court’s prior approval of parental notification.

Stowers said the opinion “misapplies our equal protection case law by comparing two groups that are not similarly situated, and fails to consider how other states have handled similar questions related to parental notification laws.”

Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) officials praised the court’s ruling, saying that Alaska’s vulnerable teenagers will now be relieved of additional burdensome hurdles in accessing abortion care. Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union, CRR, and Planned Parenthood represented plaintiffs in the case.

Janet Crepps, senior counsel at CRR, said in a statement that the “decision provides important protection to the safety and well-being of young women who need to end a pregnancy.”

“The reality is that some young women face desperate circumstances and potentially violent consequences if they are forced to bring their parents into their reproductive health decisions. This law would have deprived these vulnerable women of their constitutional rights and put them at risk of serious harm,” Crepps said.

CRR officials also noted that most young women seeking abortion care involve a parent, but some do not because they live an abusive or unsafe home.

The American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the Society for Adolescent Medicine have said minors’ access to confidential reproductive health services should be protected, according to CRR.