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

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.

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.”

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  • vulgarism

    I have heard pro lifers argue that pregnancy discrimination will be a thing of the past if abortion is illegal.

    Because as long as women can procure an abortion, they don’t need to be pregnant at all, right?

    How about banning contraception as well. Then even MORE women will suffer unintended pregnancy, which will clearly lead to major reform!

    • Shan


      • dudebro

        Pro life logic.

        • dudebro


  • fiona64

    It’s about damned time.

  • Hillary

    (Carolyn Maloney is from NY, not CA. I used to live in her district and I love her.)

  • StealthGaytheist

    Maybe if we incorporate we can have equal rights.

  • BelligerentBruncher

    I’m sorry to be the manbro* (sorry, not sorry) but pregnancy in this day and age is an option. If you choose it, then you choose to remove yourself from the workforce for a period of time. And good for you!! You are an awesome mom. Your kids will be better kids when you’re at home. But your job may suffer. And I say, FUCK IT. If that job was more important to you than being a mother to your kids, then it wasn’t worthy of you.

    *manbro™ and dudebro™ are separate identities. No sock puppetry involved. Ever. Pinky swear.

    • lady_black

      You realize that’s all bullshit, right?

      • BelligerentBruncher

        Nope. You don’t deserve equal pay if you don’t do equal work.

        • dudebro

          I deserve higher pay than you for all of the trolling that i do!

          • BelligerentBruncher

            I agree.

        • lady_black

          No. That wasn’t the topic. The topic was that staying home makes better children. And I think equal pay is deserved. Men and women do equal work.

        • Dez

          Then men should suffer the same consequences as the woman he impregnated. If a stay home mom is great then so is a stay home dad.

        • Unicorn Farm

          I hope you feel the same way about people with disabilities. I’d like to see you make that argument.

          • BelligerentBruncher

            They should hire a disabled person at your firm to do the same job as you.

            And make sure they pay that person 100% of what you make…even though that person doesn’t do the same amount of work. That sounds about right.

          • Unicorn Farm

            **woosh**. The sound of my point flying right over your head.

        • Arekushieru

          You don’t deserve equal pay if you don’t do equal work, but you MUST not do equal work in order to receive equal is PRECISELY what you are saying. Fucking douchebag..

    • fiona64

      You need to add Douchebagbro to your list of aliases.

    • Shan

      “parenting in this day and age is an option. If you choose it, then you choose to remove yourself from the workforce for a period of time. And good for you!! You are an awesome dad. Your kids will be better kids when you’re at home. But your job may suffer. And I say, FUCK IT. If that job was more important to you than being a father to your kids, then it wasn’t worthy of you.”

      There, fixed it for you.

      What would you say if your reward for being an “awesome dad” was a demotion, pay cut or flat-out unemployability due to removing yourself from the workforce for a period of time? Oh, and just at the time when you really need the extra money because your familial responsibilities have increased? Does “FUCK IT” come to mind?

      • BelligerentBruncher

        I know a few dads who left their job to be with the kids. Oh wait, you’ll probably claim that it never happens.

        • Shan

          Yeah, no. Too bad for your assumptions.

          My husband did the stay at home thing with our 2nd. It worked out well for all of us because we both worked for employers who were actually willing to work with our schedules.

          The problem isn’t employees, it’s employers.

          • BelligerentBruncher

            You’re right. Your husband taking months off from his job didn’t efftect his job performance. I’m sure he was 100% during the whole “take care of the kid” phase.

          • Arekushieru

            …Which was her point. Do you like being deliberately obtuse?

          • Shan

            Seems like it.

          • Shan

            We were both lucky to have employers who weren’t assholes. Most people aren’t that fortunate because, like you seem to believe they should, they expect to get fucked over if they take time off to raise their kids so they’re not surprised when it happens.

  • Kris Weibel

    It is not only about time, it’s way past time. This is a disgrace. As long as 5 men control the SC, this will never be amended.