On this day of the 2020 Women’s March, masses of people across the nation will gather and march to call for recognizing the human rights of women as a necessary element of a truly just and equal society for all.
Especially in this context, it is worthwhile to highlight efforts within the Democratic Party to ensure a united front when it comes to genuinely advocating for women’s equal rights and to promote an understanding of exactly what constitutes equal rights for women.
The anti-women attitudes and policies of the Republican Party are well-documented. It is not a question that, in general, when it comes to supporting rights for women, the Democratic Party is the lesser evil.
That’s right—the lesser evil.
Granting women full equal rights—human rights—entails empowering women to control their own bodies and make decisions about their own health. In other words, women’s equal rights means women have the right to abortion. This position does not have unified support in the Democratic Party.
Recently, Lori Lightfoot, the first African-American lesbian woman mayor in Chicago, elected in 2019, called for a Democratic Party that is unequivocally unified when it comes to supporting women’s equality, meaning abortion rights as well.
Achieving this unity, she bravely asserted, entails revising the proudly advertised moniker of the Democratic Party as the “big tent” party to instead promote a party identity solidly and unconditionally defined by its support and advocacy for women’s rights.
This assertion took the form of a tweet last January 4 against the candidacy of long-time Democratic House Representative Dan Lipinski from Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District. Lipinski is an outspoken foe of a women’s right to choose and one of the two Democrats who signed a legal brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit and overturn Roe v. Wade, joining two hundred congressional Republicans.
“I support a big tent but there’s no room under the flaps for anyone who is actively seeking to deny women control over our bodies,” Lightfoot tweeted from her political account. “Time to leave @danlipinski.”
This tweet, reverberating and garnering press attention in the Chicago area and throughout Illinois, constitutes an important salvo into the discourse around women’s rights and abortion rights, particularly within the Democratic Party.
As I’ve written about in the pages of PoliticusUsa, last November’s elections in Virginia, which resulted in Democrats achieving control of the state government for the first time since 1993, inspired hope that Virginia would become the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment and pave the way for potential ratification of a constitutional amendment.
Let’s remember exactly what the content is of the Equal Rights Amendment that continues to make this nation quake and resist.
Here’s the statement in the ERA this nation trembles to validate:
“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex.”
And Lightfoot’s point is that it is not simply the nation that trembles to validate this basic assertion; there are elements of the Democratic Party, with its arguably overly big tent, which refuse to support women’s equal rights. Lipinski is one of those elements.
Indeed, one of the long-standing points of resistance to granting women full personhood has been the fear that constitutionally affirming women’s equality would effectively affirm and eternalize in the Constitution women’s right to an abortion, making it more difficult, if not impossible, to limit or overturn The Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade.
Of course, without control over their own bodies, women can’t enjoy full equality.
Remember last year when Florida House Speaker José Oliva repeatedly referred to pregnant women as “host bodies”?
This kind of language, and the political attitudes embodied in it, should make clear that living up to our nation’s ideal of equality requires granting women the right to control their own bodies and to have access to an abortion—that they don’t have equality if they are effectively viewed as “host bodies.”
Lightfoot’s gesture, her tweet, was a powerful one in calling for a Democratic Party that is not weakened and diluted by division in calling for women’s equal rights. It is, indeed, not enough to rail against Republican misogyny; one must get one’s own house in order as well and cultivate political and moral integrity in one’s own party.
Calling out Lipinski and arguing he has no place in the Democratic Party provides a model for the Democratic Party, most basically, in defending our Constitution and resolving a wounding and embarrassing contradiction in our nation’s history.
The question as to why this nation can’t and won’t ratify the ERA is even more puzzling when we recall the language of the 14th amendment, which includes the clause:
“nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
The only way women don’t already have what the ERA is asking for, according to this language, has to be because they aren’t considered people.
So, refusal to ratify the ERA is a more than tacit admission that the nation is not prepared to grant personhood to women, to acknowledge that women, like corporations, just might be people.
Antonin Scalia, former Supreme Court Justice, clearly didn’t see women as people, asserting the Constitution did not afford women equal rights.
In this sense, Lightfoot is simply asking for a basic constitutional literacy and an end to women-hating.
And she has started with her own house, her own party, re-defining unity in a way that does not brook compromise on essential principles.
On this day of marching for women’s rights and equality, Lightfoot urges us not to accept the lesser evil but demand the uncompromised goodness of full human rights.
Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.