Put Women in the Constitution

Yesterday morning, while John Boehner was leading the House of Representatives in what David Corn called the “weaponizing” of the Constitution, I stood in front of the Capitol with Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NJ), Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) and other leaders of women’s rights organizations to talk about what’s missing from that document.

I held up a copy of the Constitution and started flipping through the pages, looking for the parts that guarantee equality to all women. Oh, wait — that turns out to be kind of hard to pin down, doesn’t it?

Let’s see… Article One? No, that doesn’t mention women. Article Two, Article Three? No mention of women there either.

Let’s skip to the Amendments. There’s a right to freedom of speech and freedom of religion… a right to trial by jury… no explicit mention of women’s rights there.

Okay, here is Amendment 19 — the women’s suffrage amendment. It says: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” Great!

But wait. As important as the right to vote is, it doesn’t guarantee full equality to women.

What about the 14th Amendement? It says: “No State shall… deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Excellent! Here is the part of the Constitution that guarantees equality to women — right?

After all, just last year the Supreme Court ruled in the Citizens United case that corporations are “persons” fully entitled to the free speech rights granted by the First Amendment. So, if a corporation can be a “person,” surely a woman would count as a person too — right?

Um, not according to Justice Antonin Scalia, who recently said the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection does not include women. Think about it: a sitting justice of the United States Supreme Court doesn’t consider half the population to be “persons” by the Constitution.

Sadly, Scalia’s sexism is shared by other powerful men in our country. Speaker Boehner, for example, is about as anti-women as they come. He led the opposition to the Lily Ledbetter Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act, legislation designed to end the systematic wage discrimination that makes it hard for women — and especially hard for women of color, who have to contend with racial as well as sex-based discrimination — to build up wealth or save for their children’s education or their own retirement.

Boehner has also boasted that he’ll use his position to block women from having access to reproductive health care, including abortion and birth control. Think about that: John Boehner wouldn’t dream of withholding any form of health care from men, but as far as he’s concerned women’s health care is fair game.

The harsh reality is that men like Antonin Scalia, John Boehner and other right-wing ideologues are determined to use their power to keep women down. That is why we need an explicit guarantee of equality for women in the Constitution — and why the National Organization for Women won’t stop fighting until we achieve it.

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Originally published on Terry O’Neill’s Huffington Post blog on January 7, 2011