Coretta Scott King, Rosalynn Carter, Betty Ford, and Lady Bird Johnson supporting the Equal Rights Amendment at the National Women’s Conference in 1977.
Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter passed away on Sunday, leaving behind a transformative impact on mental health care reform as well as the continuing effort to pass the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).
The ERA was authored by suffragist Alice Paul in 1923 and was introduced in every session of Congress from 1923 until it passed in 1972, when it went to the states for ratification. However, the future of the ERA was in jeopardy after the seven-year arbitrary deadline decided by Congress came to a near end.
President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter took up the fight to help pass the ERA, with President Carter signing the Extension of the Equal Rights Amendment Ratification (H.J.Res.638) to show his support for extending the time limit to 1982. First Lady Carter would meet with ERA activists and leaders once a month in the White House, with representatives from groups such as the Coalition of Labor Union Women as well as the Feminist Majority Foundation in attendance.
Eleanor Smeal, the co-founder and president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, had fond memories of these meetings with First Lady Carter. She stated, “Rosalynn Carter was a cherished ally of the feminist movement and a committed advocate for equal rights, especially in her commitment to the ERA. She will be missed.”
As First Lady, Rosalynn Carter redefined the role by transcending traditional hostess duties, engaging in substantive humanitarian work, and actively participating in cabinet meetings. Her trailblazing approach, marked by professionalism and a commitment to progress, set a precedent for future First Ladies.
Early this morning, abortion rights supporters had plenty to celebrate. The results of this November’s elections could have lasting implications for conversations and policy around access to reproductive healthcare. The outcomes also suggest a transformed political landscape in the wake of SCOTUS overturning Roe v. Wade, even in states that have been traditionally conservative.
Virginia’s Legislature Turned Blue
Governor Glenn Youngkin will not lead a GOP-controlled legislature in the Commonwealth, which is likely to end his plan for a 15-week abortion ban. Virginia Democrats retain control in the state Senate and have also flipped the House of Delegates. For the rest of his term, Gov. Youngkin will have to face unified Democratic control in the legislature, which could make passing bills for lax environmental protection and gun control laws difficult to pass for Republicans.
This race was difficult to predict even for veteran analysts because of redrawn political maps and a large number of retirements in the legislature. However, the voting power of abortion in the halls of government proved to be a motivator for voters, which is still more evidence of it being a key motivator for measures and political candidates beyond this election.
Ohio Ballot Measure Passes
In Ohio, voters approved a constitutional amendment that would ensure access to abortion and other reproductive healthcare. Ohio’s constitutional amendment (which was on the ballot as Issue 1) includes some of the most protective language for abortion access of any statewide ballot since the Roe v. Wade. Voter turnout for Issue 1 ensured that a 2019 state law banning abortions after fetal cardiac activity is detected and with no exceptions for rape or incest would be undone.
Issue 1 allows Ohio to regulate the procedure after fetal viability – when the fetus has a “significant likelihood of survival” outside the womb – in cases where doctors determine the life or health of the women in question is at risk.
Democrats who did not run on abortion lost
In Mississippi, the incumbent Republican Governor Tate Reeves beat his competitor, Democrat Brandon Presley, by about 17 percentage points. Mr. Presley did not press on the issue of abortion, instead choosing to tie Gov. Reeves to his public corruption scandal (the misspending of $94 million in federal funds for the poor in Mississippi on college volleyball facilities) and to press his own campaign forward to expand Medicaid to save collapsing rural hospitals.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed against the state of Tennessee in Memphis last week on behalf of four individuals who have been convicted of Aggravated Prostitution and required to register as “violent sex offenders” for their entire lives. The ACLU also filed on behalf of OUTMemphis, the state’s oldest and largest service provider to LGBTQ+ Tennesseans.
Tennessee is the only state in the nation that requires people living with HIV who have been convicted of prostitution to register as “violent sex offenders” for their entire lives.
The ACLU challenges the Aggravated Prostitution law and lifetime sex offender registration requirement on the grounds that they violate the Americans with Disabilities Act by targeting people living with HIV, a protected disability, for harsher punishment than others who are not HIV-positive. The lawsuit also challenges the law and sex offender requirement under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, and the 8th Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
The Aggravated Prostitution law was passed in 1991 at a time of national panic over HIV. Starting in 1994 with the adoption of a Sex Offender Registry, those convicted of Aggravated Prostitution must register as a sex offender for 10 years. In 2010, an Aggravated Prostitution conviction became classified as a “violent sexual offense” and required lifetime registration as a sex offender.
The law targets people engaged in sex work, who often are also Black cisgender and transgender women engaged in “survival sex” – the practice of people who are unhoused or otherwise disadvantaged trading sex for food, shelter, drugs, or money to meet their basic needs. 83 people were on the Tennessee sex offender registry for Aggravated Prostitution, and nearly all of them were arrested because of interactions with undercover police officers who solicited them in sting operations.
Molly Quinn, executive director of OUTMepmphis, said that the law “solely targets people because of their HIV status and keeps them in cycles of poverty, while posing absolutely zero benefit to public health and safety.” People convicted of Aggravated Prostitution spend years in prison and register as violent sex offenders for the rest of their lives, which leads to lack of access to housing, employment, healthcare, and community life.
Tennessee is not the only state to criminalize people living with HIV, as a total of 25 still have these fear-driven laws from when HIV first emerged in the 1980s. Tennessee has no comparable law for any other infectious disease, even those that are more prevalent and transmissible than HIV.
In filing documents, the ACLU noted that:
“The Aggravated Prostitution statute does not require for any inquiry in to the underlying facts and circumstances in an individual case. For instance, the statue does not allow for consideration of the alleged sexual activity at issue; the degree of risk of HIV transmission involved (if any); whether preventative measures such as a condom, PrEP, or PEP were used; the client’s HIV status; whether the accused individual has a suppressed viral load; nor whether their HIV status has been disclosed.”
HIV criminalization will not reduce HIV transmission. The plaintiffs are asking the court to strike down the Aggravated Prostitution statute and the resulting lifetime sex offender registration requirement as clearly discriminatory because they unlawfully punish people on the basis of a protected disability.
Installation view of Alison Saar’s Undone (2012), featured in The Sky’s the Limit at the National Museum of Women in the Arts; Photo by Jennifer Hughes, courtesy of NMWA
The National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) reopened on October 21 after a two-year renovation. The museum now offers renovated galleries with innovative presentations, inaugural exhibitions, and a transformed building.
NMWA is the first museum in the world that is solely dedicated to championing women through the arts and advocates for better representation of women artists.
NMWA’s reopening highlights new works, with nearly 40% of the works on view being exhibited for the first time at NMWA and 70 of those works being from the museum’s own collection.
The renovation is the museum’s first full renovation since its first opening in 1987, which includes exterior restoration as well as expanded gallery spaces. The project was designed by Baltimore-based architectural firm Sandra Vicchio & Associates. The team restored the roof and grand brick-and-limestone exterior in accordance with the D.C. Historic Preservation Office. They made updates to the Great Hall and mezzanine, preserving the iconic spaces while improving functionality for art displays, programs and events. Gallery spaces are enlarged by more than 15%. Structural supports concealed above ceilings and within gallery walls can now accommodate the size and weight of monumental sculptures.
NMWA’s inaugural major exhibition, The Sky’s the Limit, features contemporary sculptures and immersive installations by 13 international and US-based artists. The exhibition showcases 33 sculptures dating from 2003 to 2023 by artists Rina Banerjee, Sonya Clark, Petah Coyne, Beatriz Milhazes, Cornelia Parker, Mariah Robertson, Alison Saar, Davina Semo, Shinique Smith, Johanna Unzueta, Joana Vasconcelos, Ursula von Rydingsvard and Yuriko Yamaguchi. The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated catalog and will be on view through February 25, 2024.
Last week, D.C. warmly welcomed Ms. to celebrate 50 years of groundbreaking journalism and inspiring generations of women and feminist activists. The Feminist Majority Foundation and Ms. hosted multiple events – a news conference at the National Press Club, a panel at the Women’s Bar Association of D.C., and a reception in the Senate’s Mansfield Room.
“A New Ms. Poll focused on the Issues Driving Women’s Voting Decisions: Congress and the 2024 Elections” was debuted at the National Press Club and the following speakers gave their thoughts on the current state of gender issues: Ms. executive editor Kathy Spillar, pollster Celinda Lake, American labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, ERA Coalition Chair Zakiya Thomas, and Feminist Majority Foundation president Eleanor Smeal.
Photo by Madelyn Amos
This news conference comes right as Ms. and FMF released a new poll report on issues driving women’s voting decisions in the critical 2024 elections including abortion, women’s equality, and the Equal Rights Amendment. Celinda Lake from Lake Research Partners presented the research firm’s findings. The poll revealed that the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision and passage of abortion restrictions and outright bans has energized pro-abortion rights voters, especially women who have the power to determine the outcome of elections.
The event allowed audience members to ask questions to the panelists and give accounts of their own experiences after the Dobbs decision. Audience members noted the overwhelming impact on, not just abortion access, but also on basic health care. “I live in a fairly red area in Fredericksburg… There is a 60-day average wait for an ultrasound,” said one audience member. Another said: “The wait is longer the further south you go. We’re hearing from our leads in Southern Virginia that the wait is longer – even for basic health care – along the Tennessee border.”
The reception in the Mansfield Room of the Senate was kindly sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and welcomed speakers such as Speaker Emirata Nancy Pelosi, Congresswoman Lois Frankel, Congresswoman Katherine Clark, American labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, and former senator and president of the American Constitution Society Russ Feingold.
The audience was not just women who were well-established activists or educators – it was also young, college-aged women who came to hear the speakers and celebrate Ms. Magazine. Generation Ratify (covered by Ms. in “Young Women Vow to Carry the Equal Rights Amendment Across the Finish Line”) and young staffers and interns packed the room, applauding and cheering with every call to action.
Ms. magazine has inspired generations of women, feminist activists, and movements – and it’s not over by any means. Ms. executive editor Spillar said, “Men in particular keep thinking, ‘Isn’t it getting old? Isn’t it receding?’ I say to them, ‘As long as sex isn’t getting old, neither is abortion.’”
Happy 50th to Ms., and here’s to another 50 years of groundbreaking journalism and empowered women!
Mexico’s highest court unanimously ruled that previous laws banning abortion were unconstitutional and breached human rights.
On Wednesday, the court “resolved that the legal system that criminalizes abortion in the Federal Criminal Code is unconstitutional, as it violates the human rights of women and the capacity to gestate.” In the press release, the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (SCJN) asserted:
“The Chamber held that the criminalization of abortion constitutes an act of gender-based violence and discrimination, as it perpetuates the stereotype that women and people with the capacity to get pregnant can only freely exercise their sexuality to procreate and reinforces the gender role that imposes motherhood as a compulsory destiny.”
This federal ban is part of the growing trend of legalizing abortion in Latin America. The Mexico City government was the first Latin American jurisdiction to authorize voluntary abortion in 2007. In 2020, Argentina legalized the procedure, and in 2022, Colombia, another culturally conservative country, legalized the procedure as well. In 2021, SCJN unanimously ruled penalizing abortion was unconstitutional. Last week, the state of Aguascalientes became the 12th state in Mexico to decriminalize the procedure.
The ruling means that more than 70 percent of women in Mexico who are covered by the national healthcare system – people living in poverty, federal employees, or salaried workers who pay social security – will have access to legal abortion. Mexico’s federal hospitals and clinics will be required to offer abortion to those who seek it. Removing the federal ban takes away another excuse used by care providers who deny abortions in states where the procedure is no longer a crime.
However, abortion activists and feminist organizations must still continue the fight. Fernanda Díaz de León, sub-director and legal expert for women’s rights group IPAS, as well as officials at other feminist organizations worry that women, particularly in more conservative areas, may still be denied abortions. Even though penalizing abortion in Mexico is unconstitutional, 20 states have yet to amend local legislation.
Irma Barrientos, director of the Civil Association for the Rights of the Conceived, said opponents will continue the fight against expanded abortion access. “We’re not going to stop,” Barrientos said. “Let’s remember what happened in the United States. After 40 years, the Supreme Court reversed its abortion decision, and we’re not going to stop until Mexico guarantees the right to life from the moment of conception.”
The Feminist Majority Foundation is dedicated to the fight for reproductive freedom and is eager to support Mexicans in their push for abortion access.