Viewpoint: Women’s Equality Day draws little attention

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Viewpoint: Women’s Equality Day draws little attention
Karen Rubin, Columnist

With little notice or fanfare beyond President Biden’s Proclamation, we celebrated Women’s Equality Day this week.

Well not exactly celebrated. Not sure if anybody actually marked it – it was Aug. 26, the day that the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote was finally ratified after decades of struggle and suffering.

It also marked the 100th year – the centennial! – since the Equal Rights Amendment was first proposed. Still waiting for ratification, despite Virginia being the 38th state to ratify the Amendment, which in a decent society would have been enough for women’s equal rights to finally be enshrined in the Constitution.

It came three days after every Republican vying to become the next president fell over themselves promising to advocate the most restrictive national abortion ban conceivable (though Nikki Haley was only slightly more pragmatic but still came out on the side of state control of women’s lives).

Ten days before Women’s Equality Day, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reimposed the rollback of FDA regulations that expanded access to the abortion pill mifepristone, blocking retail pharmacies like Walgreens, CVS, and Rite Aid from distributing the abortion pill anywhere in the country, even in states where abortion is legal, and declared that mifepristone cannot be distributed by mail or used beyond six weeks of pregnancy.

In response, the White House declared, “In the face of these unprecedented attacks on women’s health, we will continue to fight for women’s freedom to make decisions about their own bodies.”

In the year since the far-right radical religious fanatics of the Supreme Court supermajority overturned Roe v. Wade, giving the states the “right” to legislate abortion bans, 14 states have banned abortion care. But that is not enough for Republicans, who have since tried to lay the groundwork for a national abortion ban, starting with limiting access to medication abortion.

Quite literally, medication abortion saves lives. Forced birth can be deadly, particularly for Black women, who are three times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy-related complications.

Nationally, rates of maternal mortality as well as infant mortality, already the highest in the industrialized world, have spiked since women’s reproductive freedom has been revoked and highest in states that ban abortion.

President Biden also reminded us that it has been a century – a century! – since the Equal Rights Amendment was introduced.

When Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the ERA, people questioned why we need an ERA. After all, women have attained such success in politics and careers (really??). And then the radical White Christo Fascist Supreme Court issued the Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade’s constitutional protection of women’s reproductive rights and relegating women to creatures of the state, non-citizens without the capacity to make their own life decisions. (What’s another word for that? Oh yes, “slave” – which is banned under the 13th Amendment.)

“It is long past time to definitively enshrine the principle of gender equality in the Constitution,” Biden declared. “Together we can and must build a future where our daughters have all the same rights and opportunities as our sons, where all women and girls have a chance to realize their God-given potential, and where we can finally realize the full promise of America for all Americans.”

Biden reminded “we the people” that America is the only nation in the world based on an idea: the idea that all people are created equal and deserve to be treated equally throughout their lives.

“We have never fully lived up to that idea, but we have never walked away from it either….Today, women still face discrimination and threats to their health and safety, as well as gaps in pay, access to health care, and caregiving responsibilities.  These gaps are often even greater for women and girls of color.”

Virtually no notice was made about Women’s Equality Day which was overshadowed by the March on Washington on the 60th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the first March on Washington for civil rights. But because of the backsliding on women’s rights, civil rights, voting rights, human rights, the right to live free of fear from gun violence and climate catastrophes, the march was billed not as a “commemoration” but a “continuation.”

Indeed the hope – as expressed by the tens of thousands who participated in the march – was challenged by the hate and violence that have become fundamental to what formerly had been known as the Republican Party.

Even as the March on Washington speeches were underway, a man carrying an assault weapon decorated with Nazi swastikas massacred three in a Dollar General store in Jacksonville, Fl – mimicking the Buffalo racist massacre a year ago. Florida is where Gov. Ron DeSantis gleefully signed permitless carry legislation (the 27th state), even as he signed a six-week abortion ban (22 states have bans), voter suppression legislation, bans on books and education and other wholly anti-democratic (that is White Christo Fascist) actions.

The suffragists knew that equality begins at the ballot box and requires women to have a seat at the table, Biden noted, which is why it is as important today as it was 60 years ago to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act to ensure fair Congressional maps and the right to cast a vote.  To have the vote counted gives all Americans an equal chance to be heard.

“Let us rededicate ourselves to the fight for equity, opportunity, and justice,” Vice President Kamala Harris declared. “And let us continue to work to secure our most foundational freedoms: the freedom to vote, the freedom of women to make decisions about their own bodies, and the freedom to live free from hate and violence.”

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