Monday, February 26, 2007

The Equal Rights Amendment Redux
by Idella Moore

When Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment in 1972, in order to get around powerful North Carolina Sen. Sam Ervin's opposition, it added a seven-year time limit on ratification. Even after Congress bowed to public pressure to extend the deadline, proponents were given only an additional three years to finish ratification.

Throughout the 10 years of the ERA campaign, national polls consistently showed the majority of Americans were in favor of the amendment. But state legislators who believed (or purported to believe) the anti-ERA claims that the ERA would destroy families, legalize gay marriage, subject women to the military draft, and mandate unisex toilets, were successful in preventing the ERA from being ratified in 15 state legislatures. By June 30, 1982 the deadline came with the ERA lacking just three of the 38 states needed for ratification. The ERA was defeated. Or was it?

Twenty-four years after the Equal Rights Amendment's ratification "deadline," there is a new campaign to finish ratifying the ERA, and the campaign is beginning to gain some momentum. Although members of Congress have re-introduced ERA ratification resolutions into every session of Congress since 1982, only recently have grassroots proponents developed a new strategy. This "three state" strategy is based upon a legal opinion that says the ERA ratification process is still legally active and can continue from where it left off.

The Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress has presented findings which support such a strategy. According to this opinion, if three more states ratify the ERA Congress has the power to declare it fully ratified and add it to the Constitution. North Carolina is one of the 15 states that didn't ratify the amendment.

This new ERA campaign has had some success. For instance, Illinois' House passed the ERA in May 2003, and Missouri and Florida have introduced ratification resolutions in the last several legislative sessions. In 2005, the Arkansas Senate voted on an ERA ratification resolution. That resolution failed by a margin of only two votes. On January 24, 2007, it was re-introduced during an ERA rally attended by Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe and all of the state's constitutional officers. The committee hearing drew revered former Governor and U.S. Senator David Pryor to speak in favor of the ERA. The committee vote resulted in a tie so the resolution is expected to have a second hearing sometime during the next few weeks. A week after the Arkansas resolution was introduced, ERA advocates in Arizona also introduced a ratification resolution. Currently there are ERA resolutions pending in Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Missouri.

But would ratification of the ERA really mean that we would have to share toilet facilities with members of the opposite sex? In 20 states, equal rights amendments (or near equivalents) have been added to state constitutions, yet unisex rest rooms have yet to be mandated. In fact all of the anti-ERA claims are equally without merit.

But why is the ERA still needed? For all the same reasons it was needed before. Although women have made some gains since the 1970s, sex discrimination in the workplace continues to impact women and consequently their families. For instance, the largest class action lawsuit in the history of the U.S. is currently being argued involving 1.6 million women who are suing a major box store for sex discrimination in hiring and promotion practices. These types of cases would be rare if the ERA was ratified.

Furthermore, full time working women continue to make on average 75 cents for every $1 a full time working man makes. Forty-two years after the Civil Rights Act outlawed employment discrimination it is evident that laws are not sufficient for protecting women from unequal treatment. The ERA is necessary to provide the legal muscle to attack sex discrimination vigorously and consistently.

Americans still overwhelmingly support equality of men and women. Eighty-eight percent of the public believe that the ERA should be in the U.S. Constitution. Indeed, our U.S. diplomats insisted that equal rights for men and women were included in the new constitutions of Afghanistan and Iraq. An explicit statement to our Constitution that men and women in this country are citizens of equal worth and are entitled to equal treatment under the law is long overdue.


Moore is the executive officer for

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Economic Status of Arizona Women
by Jodi Beckley Liggett

Women have made tremendous economic gains over the last several decades. While women fare much better in some states than others, nowhere do women fare as well economically as men.

So go the findings of the Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR) in their report, "The Best and Worst State Economies for Women." IWPR is a think tank that tracks women's well being across the states. Arizonans will be pleasantly surprised to learn that Arizona does not vie for dead last on these particular rankings. Yet, all the states have far to go in achieving economic equality for women, and Arizona is no exception.

The Arizona Foundation for Women commissioned the Arizona portion of the "Best and Worst States" report which presents rankings on measures related to women's health, education, social justice, and political participation.

The rankings are contained in the Foundation's report, "Arizona Women 2007: A Status Update." The reports indicate that Arizona is doing well on many measures. However, some startling contrasts show just how variable Arizona women's well-being is.

Arizona ranks in the top quarter for measures related to maternal and child health, and female disease, yet has a poor ranking for health insurance coverage. Similarly, we are near the top for women's employment and earnings and business ownership, yet in the bottom half of the nation for number of women above the poverty line. The final weird juxtaposition: Arizona is one of the worst states for women's voter registration and turnout, yet we are near the top for the number of women legislators, and for women in statewide elected office.

A look inside the data reveals even more contrasts. Though our overall ranking for maternal and child health is good, the report indicates that Hispanic and Native American women receive far less prenatal care (about 67 percent) than white women (87 percent).

On another highly ranked measure, female disease mortality, a closer look shows that the incidence of AIDS among African American women in Arizona is over 10 times higher than that of white women (30.3 percent, versus 3.2 percent).

Arizona women's overall employment and earnings are good, compared to other states. However, Hispanic women in Arizona earn 51.5 percent of what white men earn, compared to 77.4 percent for white women. Only 65 percent of Native American women are above the poverty line compared to 90.7 percent of white women. Arizona is second in the nation for the number of women enrolled in postsecondary education, but only 12.7 percent of Hispanic women have a college degree, compared to 28.6 percent of white women.

The K-12 level shows some sobering, but not surprising, news across the board. Arizona has one of the worst dropout rates in the country, and our schools are struggling with one of the highest numbers of English-language learners.

What does it all mean? Arizona has some women who are doing really well, which boosts our ranking in areas like business ownership and earnings. However, as our closer look indicated, things are not going well for all of us -- women of color and poor women have less access to higher education, health care, child care and many other supports that are the keys to self-sufficiency. So while some standouts are pulling our average up, we shouldn't be content in the middle of the pack. A "C" may be a passing grade, but we've got to aim higher than "not the worst."

Helping Arizona women to aim higher should be our mission. We must bring business, governmental and social sector leaders together to affect social change and catalyze women to become informed about the issues, build coalitions and create action for change.

Arizona is doing reasonably well for many women, on many measures. But we must aim higher. By working from facts, and measuring progress over time, we hope to make Arizona the best place possible for women to live and raise their families.


Liggett is director of programs and policy research at the Arizona Foundation for Women.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Legislature Attacks Reproductive Rights Again

by Ann O'Hanlon

RICHMOND, VA.--Here we go again. Extremist state legislators are taking the issue of abortion and using it to distract us as they quietly impose their alarming, turn-back-the-clock agenda on women's issues.

So far, by one or two votes, most of their radical proposals have failed to make it to the governor's desk and because of this do not receive much media or other public attention. But no one who cares about family privacy or the rights of women should be complacent. Right now, one Senate committee -- a committee whose members believe that the most intimate personal decisions should be made without intrusion from government -- is all that prevents these proposals from becoming law.

If those committee members weren't there -- and one day soon some of them will not be -- many forms of birth control, including the pill and the IUD, would be subject to Virginia's strict abortion laws or be made entirely illegal. An exaggeration? Not at all. Here's why.

Pregnancy begins when a fertilized egg implants in the uterus. Ask the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, even the Code of Federal Regulations of the U.S. Government. That's the definition. But every year, the extremists who want to regulate a woman's uterus try to write into Virginia law that a pregnancy begins the moment fertilization occurs. Beyond that, they try every year to legally define that moment as the beginning of life.

When and if they are successful, that moment of fertilization could be equivalent to the moment of childbirth under law. Anything that stopped the fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus could be construed as the legal equivalent of an abortion. This includes the birth control pills that 12 million American women use.

So as our state legislature meets for all of six weeks this calendar year to grapple with issues that truly need government attention, such as education and transportation, some politicians have thrown the following backward-looking proposals into the mix:

* A proposal that defines life as starting at fertilization;

* A proposal to dangerously misinform our young people in public schools' Family Life Education classes, including inaccurate statements on abstinence and contraception; and

* A proposal to ban all abortions (except those where the mothers life is in danger) should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade.

The sponsors of these proposals are legislators who are rightly troubled by the actions some pregnant women take to either intentionally or unintentionally harm their pregnancy. But rather than work to understand and help such women, who may have mental illness or an addiction and nowhere to turn to for help, the proposals would instead intensify the charges and punishments exacted upon these women.

What we need are bills that increase prenatal care for women in poverty and enhance substance abuse screening of all pregnant women with follow-up care if appropriate, or at the very least require treatment or counseling for the woman in conjunction with her court-ordered punishment.

So while these extremists in Richmond constantly use that divisive word -- abortion -- as their bumper sticker and their public face, make no mistake, what they are working on is an intrusion into more than just a woman's privacy, it is an intrusion into family privacy and family choices concerning birth control.

O'Hanlon is the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia.