SPEIER: On the 75th anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention, Alice Paul first announced a new constitutional amendment. It was then entitled the Lucretia Mott amendment, as she called it. It is the Equal Rights Amendment. And it’s been introduced every session of congress from 1923-1972. Thirty-five states have ratified the ERA before the deadline, leaving us just three states short. We are still fighting to get women into the constitution, 91 years after the ERA was first introduced, and 166 years after the Seneca Falls Convention. To the women and men here today, especially those who are the next generation of champions, know this. Equality is only twenty-four words away. They are simple but powerful words. Equality of rights, under the law, shall not be denied, or abridged, by the United States or by any state, on the account of sex. That is the ERA.
And let me tell you why these words are so crucial. Justice Scalia recently pointed out to us, and I quote, “certainly the constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it,” and then he said, “It doesn’t”. So a Justice of the Supreme Court has said publically that the Constitution does not prohibit discrimination based on sex. That is precisely why we need the ERA. Those words should haunt every woman in this country. And they should haunt every man in this country who has a wife, a daughter, a sister or a mother that deserves to be treated equally under the laws in this country, and by our very sacred constitution.
The constitution is the blue print of how we want our republic to function. It enumerates the rights of our citizens, and as our republic has progressed, so has our constitution. The ERA is critically necessary because it would once and for all give women the remedies for justice when they face sex discrimination in pay equity, in pregnancy accommodations, and responses to violence against them.
More importantly, having an ERA would get rid of the intent requirement and banish it forever. No longer would the legal arguments for women be doubly burdened. First, women have to prove that there was a crime or violation. And then they have to prove that there was an intent to discriminate against them, based on sex. We need a new permanent standard protected in the United States Constitution that states that women are as equal as men, under the eyes of the law.
I’m proud to be here today with my colleague and good, good, friend who has been an ERA champion, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, who is the author of legislation that advocates a fresh start approach. Proposing a new ERA, and calling on 38 states to ratify it. I’m offering legislation that advocates for the three state solution, eliminating the timeline, and gaining the ratification from three more states.
We have the same goal. ERA now! So why ERA now? It is still legal in our society to discriminate against women. Pure and simple. Let me tell you a story about a constituent. Laura Moore, from my district, met her husband when they were in graduate school. They both graduated with the same degree and applied to many of the same jobs, with nearly identical resumes, except she had an edge on her husband. She had five more years of experience, and an additional certification. And guess what happened? They both got hired by the same firm, except, he received five thousand dollars more in salary to begin.
Now fortunately, their marriage has survived, and they now have a young child. But her experience is the experience that women face every single day in this country. And the extent to which sex discrimination is okay, makes it not okay for every one of us. It is for all the Laura Moore’s out there that the ERA must be passed. We are tired of contemplating justice as women. We want justice now. Now I am thrilled to introduce a heroine of the ERA that has been doing in the pursuit of it for decades. My colleague from New York, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney.
MALONEY: Thank you so much, everyone that’s here, and I particularly want to thank the like-minded men that have joined us today. Thank you for standing with us. And my dear friend, Jackie Speier, for her leadership on this fight for equality, it was an important day for our country when she was elected to congress. Her leadership, in so many areas, is important to them. I would like to especially thank Leigh Meredith, who will be sharing her own personal story about a pregnancy discrimination. And other really important people who have led this fight for decades. That is Ellie Smeal who is always an incredible leader, for decades, for women. Terry O’Neill president of the National Organization of Women. And Dr. Faye Williams, the national chair of the National Congress of Black Women. And of course Jessica Neuwirth the president of the ERA coalition which is bringing us together to make sure this important legislation passes.
We are standing here today in front of the Supreme Court, under the inscription that says equal justice under the law. But we know that sitting members of the Supreme Court do not believe that women are entitled to full and equal protections of the bill of rights and the constitution and they have said so. Many cases that have gone to the Supreme Court on discrimination against women, particularly on sexual violence, has not been upheld. They have clearly said that women do not have standing. So we intend to change that. We intend to put half the population, women, into the constitution of the United States of America. We want equal treatment under the law, not special treatment, just equal treatment. Equal pay, equal opportunity, equal access, and equal rights. We need to say once and for all, in our constitution, our first principle must be, let equal really mean equal for all of our citizens. And to achieve that, we need an equal rights amendment.
And we can 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. Now we thought we had protections for women when we passed the Violence against Women act. Because in that bill, we had a civil course of action for gender based violence.
But an incredible decision, one that I believe that would be overturned in future years, was the Brzonkala Decision. Where a young woman, her first night on campus, was raped by several football stars. One even admitted it. She appeals to her campus, they let them off. She appeals to her state, they let them off. She appeals to the United States Supreme Court, and they say she does not have standing, that the 14th amendment does not apply to protecting women in the discrimination of sexual violence. Why is there so much sexual violence? Because people let it continue. If women were in the constitution, they could appeal to the Supreme Court, and say is it right to let football stars rape young women on their first day on campus? Is that the right thing to do? And then say, they did nothing wrong, and the woman’s life is often times ruined. So the Supreme Court needs to have the solid basis of having women in the constitution to make the right decisions.
Recently, just 2 weeks ago, there was an article about a sexual assault in my great state of New York. Anna was 18 years old, attended Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Only 2 weeks in she was sexually assaulted, gang raped by football stars, people all saw it, people all knew it, and the evidence was there. The football stars got off, they went on to win some games. She appealed to the school, and got no justice. We want to make sure that students like Anna, who are sexually assaulted on their campuses, they don’t have any options. They can go to the school, to the police, or just remain silent. We want to give her another option, that she can go, and women like her, to the Supreme Court for gender based violence against women.
Women have made great progress in our great country. But we cannot allow brave women like Anna to be subject to the whim of judicial attitude, or school attitude, or campus attitude. We spend too much of our time, Jackie and other like-minded men and women in congress, fighting to hold on to what we have. Fighting to hold on for continued efforts to chip away at Title VII, Title XI, and pregnancy discrimination. So we need to stop playing defense on our rights, we need to put women’s equality in the constitution once and for all, and we need the equal rights amendment. Thank you very much, let’s go out there and get it done and pass it.
SPEIER: Thank you congresswoman. We are now going to hear from a young woman who has indeed a remarkable story to tell us. She is like so many young women today, who believes that really the sky is the limit. Until she got knocked up against a wall of discrimination. We’re going to hear from Leigh Meredith, a courageous woman who provided 5 years of service to GEICO before she felt that she was forced to resign, after experiencing severe discrimination, just because she got pregnant. Leigh?
LEIGH MEREDITH: Thank you, thank you. Building a career and building a baby shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. But that’s what I experienced at GEICO. As the congresswoman stated, I had worked at GEICO, at that time, for 4 years, when I found out I was pregnant, which is awesome. I worked really hard, and I had gained promotions, and I was on the block for my next one. I kept up my work, really hard, despite a physically, really trying pregnancy. I was very sick, and in the last trimester I could hardly walk. And yet, I maintained, even exemplified, all of my work. I waited, and I waited to hear about my promotion, and right before I left on maternity leave, I got called in for my meeting. But instead of hearing about my promotion, I was advised that I wouldn’t be getting it. So I headed straight to HR, I filed my complaint, and I advised that in my opinion, this was pregnancy discrimination. They said they would investigate. I took maternity leave for 4 months. I had other health issues after my pregnancy, and of course I wanted to bond with my daughter. When I returned, and I had given them ample time to look into my case, they had no answer for me. I expected that I would be welcomed back with a response, but my 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. So as the congresswoman stated, when we should be going through joyous times and growing, and building careers, we’re fighting for our rights. And instead, we should be able to, this time next year, to be moving forward and not have to worry about this. Thank you.
SPEIER: Thank you. Our next speaker is an icon of the feminist movement. And from the time I was a young student, I admired this woman so much. Ellie Smeal is the president of the Feminist Majority. Back on June 30, 1982, she was president of NOW, and she spoke at a rally at Lafayette Park here in Washington D.C. with 2,000 supporters. And she said the following, we are a majority, we are determined to play majority politics, we are not going to be reduced again to the ladies auxiliary. Said as only Ellie Smeal can say it, please welcome Ellie Smeal.
ELLIE SMEAL: We passed 35 states, passed two times through congress, thousands and thousands and thousands of people marched and worked for this amendment. And we were always in the majority in the polls, overwhelmingly. Not only in the nation as a whole, but in the unratified states. We carried majority sport, and now we are in the 90 percentiles. In fact, most people think that we have an equal rights amendment when we do not have an Equal Rights Amendment.
And it’s always explained away why women are cheated. We thought we passed the pregnancy discrimination act in 1978, and here we have, still, pregnancy discrimination. We thought that, indeed, they were going to expand rights, as Mr. Reagan said then, we would have the E and the R but not the A. But, instead, just a few weeks ago, this Supreme Court ruled that it was okay, in fact it was religious freedom, for the boss to decide if the women employees would have access to contraception or not according to his religion. Her religion didn’t count, her life didn’t count. It was gross discrimination. The Hobby Lobby case is Sex Discrimination. They didn’t cut off supplies of Viagra, they cut off supplies of birth control access. And when they say, oh there’s no problem, she still can buy it, and they forget how expensive it is. To have an IUD, is in fact, by insertion, by buy in, etc., it’s over a thousand dollars. Buy that on minimum wage. Buy that on a wage, for women that is inadequate and unequal.
Women are discriminated against in pay. And we say its 77 cents on the dollar now, but don’t be fooled, it really isn’t. Women are in those classes of work that get paid the least, for a hard days work. That’s why we have, it’s not just the Rosie Riveters of World War II, at least they got paid equal, the Rosie Riveters of today, don’t get paid equal still. And it’s not just in wages it’s in benefits. We passed an affordable care act, which they’re trying to defeat, and it has, for the first time, a clause that says that you cannot discriminate against women in insurance pricing. You can’t charge her more, and give her less. In fact, it says, you have to cover maternity. Until that passed, women were paying 150 percent more than men.
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