Women’s rights are human rights. Congresswoman Speier has fought her entire career for women and girls to be able to reach their full potential. Their right to make their own health care decisions, their right to earn equal pay for equal work, and their right to succeed in work environments free from harassment and discrimination – to name a few. As Co-Chair of the Democratic Women’s Caucus, which is comprised of all the women Members in the U.S. House of Representatives, Congresswoman Speier truly believes that when women succeed America is stronger and more prosperous. She will continue to be a vocal champion for women and their families.
Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
Congresswoman Speier is the author of H.J.Res.79, a resolution to eliminate the arbitrary deadline for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) that would constitutionally prohibit discrimination based on sex. Since our country’s founding, women have been left out of the Constitution—intentionally. They were second-class citizens deprived of basic rights to vote, enter most jobs, or own property. The ERA would finally right that wrong by making women equal to men under the eyes of the law.
The ERA was first introduced in 1923 by Alice Paul and has been reintroduced in every Congress since. When the ERA finally passed Congress in 1972, it included a few simple but powerful words: “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex.”
The Constitution requires that three-fourths of the states ratify an amendment before it takes effect. When it proposed the ERA, Congress added a seven-year ratification deadline to the amendment’s preamble. That deadline was extended an additional two years and 35 of the necessary 38 states ratified the ERA before the timeline ran out. Recently, Nevada and Illinois joined those ranks. That leaves us just one state shy of finally making the ERA a reality. Rep. Speier’s resolution would remove the arbitrary deadline so that the ERA may expeditiously proceed to ratification.
H.J. Res.79 has over 200 bipartisan cosponsors and was recently the subject of a Judiciary Committee hearing and markup. Congresswoman Speier looks forward to working toward a floor vote and the swift ratification of an amendment that is long overdue.
Congresswoman Speier believes that every woman must have access to quality reproductive health care and is committed to protecting a woman's right to choose. As a Task Force Chair of the Pro-Choice Caucus, Congresswoman Speier fights against the Republicans’ unyielding assault on a woman’s ability to control her own body. Across the country, Republicans have crafted laws designed to shutter abortion clinics, imprison doctors who perform abortions for longer prison terms than those served by many rapists, and leave women to die rather than access abortion care. As a result, 90 percent of U.S. counties lack access to a single abortion clinic. At the federal level, the Trump Administration is hell bent on punishing women with policies such as the Title X Domestic Gag Rule, which will block millions of dollars in funding from Planned Parenthood and deny countless people lifesaving care.
She is a proud cosponsor of H.R. 1692, the EACH Woman Act, to repeal the Hyde Amendment so that women’s access to abortion care is not dictated by their income or type of insurance. Congresswoman Speier is also a strong supporter of H.R. 2975, the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA). While Roe remains the law of the land, more than 400 laws have passed since 2011 to regulate or restrict abortion for medically unnecessary reasons. WHPA would protect against these burdensome restrictions. With this Conservative Supreme Court, protecting Roe is absolutely vital. Already 1 in 3 women of reproductive age – over 25 million people – live in a state where abortion could be outlawed if Roe is overturned.
As a leader on armed services issues, Congresswoman Speier is the author of H.R. 2091, the Access to Contraception for Servicemembers and Dependents Act, so that all women who receive health care through the military have the same access as civilians to all FDA-approved contraception and counseling with no co-pay. H.R. 2091 also ensures that the military provides family planning education and emergency contraception for sexual assault survivors. This legislation was successfully included as part of the FY 2020 National Defense Authorization Act that passed the House of Representatives.
For Congresswoman Speier, the fight for abortion rights is personal. In February 2011, she became the first Member of Congress to share her abortion story on the House floor. She initially took to the floor in opposition to a Republican amendment that would have withheld Title X funding from clinics, like Planned Parenthood, that provide abortion coverage.
But when she reached the podium, she felt compelled to share her own story in response to lies that were being perpetrated by one of her colleagues. On that day, Speier shared the fact that she had an abortion procedure when she was 17 weeks pregnant. She and her husband wanted to see the pregnancy through, but the fetus was not viable and the procedure was necessary for her health.
In the days that followed, Speier received thousands of letters, calls, and e-mails from women, not just in California but around the country. They shared with her that they too were among the one in four women who have had an abortion but had never spoken out because of the stigma created around the issue. Others talked about how Planned Parenthood had become their only health care option and how pleased they were that she and her colleagues were fighting for it. Speier continues to speak out about her experience so that women will no longer be silenced or stigmatized.
February 2013 marked the 100th Anniversary of the Suffrage Procession, when 5,000 women marched up Pennsylvania Avenue demanding the right to vote. The suffragists who mobilized in Washington that day were up against groups like the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage who, in 1917, argued in a letter to Congress that passing the 19th Amendment would be ‘an official endorsement of nagging as a national policy.' Congresswoman Speier keeps an original copy of that letter framed and hung on the wall of her office right next to the 1871 petition to Congress from suffragists Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Despite the vast improvements since the 19th Amendment was passed a century ago, the fight for women’s equality is far from over. That is why Congresswoman Speier and her House Democratic colleagues have fought for women’s economic opportunity, and policies that recognize the demands of both work and family. With women making up half of the workforce, and with mothers the sole or primary breadwinners in 41 percent of families with children, women can’t afford to wait any longer for equal pay, quality, affordable child care, paid family and medical leave, and equality in the workplace.
Equal Pay for Equal Work
For all the progress women have made, Congresswoman Speier remains outraged that a woman still earns 80 cents for every dollar that a man takes home for full-time, year-round work. Right now women have to work nearly four months longer than their male counterparts to earn the same annual pay, losing over $10,000 per year and over $400,000 over the course of a 40-year career. Women of color face the brunt of the inequality, with Black women making only 61 cents, Latinas earning 53 cents, and Native women earning 58 cents for every dollar paid to white men. Closing the gender wage gap is both a moral and an economic imperative. If women received equal pay with comparable men, poverty for working women would be cut by half and the economy would grow by $512 billion annually.
Congresswoman Speier is an ardent supporter of H.R. 7, the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would help ensure equal pay by putting teeth into the Equal Pay Act of 1963, ban retaliation against workers who discuss their salaries, and prohibit the practice of asking salary history during the hiring process. The Paycheck Fairness Act passed the U.S. House of Representatives and currently sits on Mitch McConnell’s desk in the Senate.
Paid Family and Medical Leave & Paid Sick Days
Nearly everyone will need time to care for a new child or an ill family member or to recover from their own personal illness at some point in their lives. But just 17 percent of the workforce has paid family leave and less than 40 percent has paid medical leave. Families should not be forced to choose between a paycheck and taking time for care. California is leading the charge nationwide, with many workers entitled to six weeks of paid family leave. Still, there is a need for a comprehensive national standard instead of a patchwork of state laws. Rep. Speier is a cosponsor of the FAMILY Act, which would provide workers with 12 weeks of paid leave for a Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)-related purpose. She is also a cosponsor of the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act to provide paid leave for federal workers. Most recently, she was proud to vote for a National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that extended 12 weeks of paid parental leave to federal workers – although further action is needed to ensure workers have paid leave to care for their own health or for a family member.
Moreover, more than 37 million workers lack access to a single paid sick day. Rep. Speier is a cosponsor of the Healthy Families Act to allow workers to earn seven job-protected paid sick days each year.
Quality, Affordable Child Care and Early Education
Fairness for Pregnant Workers
Sixty-two percent of pregnant women and new moms are in the workforce, and yet pregnant workers can be retaliated against, placed on unpaid leave, or pushed out of their jobs because of their pregnancy. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, of which Congresswoman Speier is a cosponsor, would ensure that pregnant women are not forced out of work or denied reasonable accommodations, such as permission to use a stool while working a cash register, or temporary reassignment to lighter duty tasks, that would keep them working and supporting their families. The legislation would close legal loopholes and ensure that pregnant women are treated fairly on the job.
Safety and Freedom from Violence
In October 2017, actress and activist Alyssa Milano tweeted the immortal words – Me Too. Since then, the phrase has been shared millions of times and become an indelible part of our national conscientiousness. Workers across industries and in every part of the world have come forward with their own harrowing experiences of harassment and discrimination, refusing to accept any more excuses and demanding systemic change. As the Co-Chair of the Bipartisan Task Force to End Sexual Violence, Congresswoman Speier has hosted hearings with experts and pushed for legislation to make our communities safe from sexual violence. Her passion is emboldened by her personal experience as a survivor. Speier has been a lifelong advocate for women’s safety, taking on the military, K-12 schools and college campuses, the Boy Scouts, USA Gymnastics, federal agencies, and even Congress.
ME TOO Congress Act
For far too long, Congress has been a breeding ground for harassment and discrimination. Members were able to subject staff to horrific and debasing behavior – with taxpayers footing the bill. Meanwhile, survivors had their careers derailed and were revictimized by a process that cared more about the institution than their lives.
In October 2017, Congresswoman Speier brought the Me Too movement to Congress by sharing her own experience of misconduct when she was a Congressional aide (link to video). When Speier was a Congressional staffer, her Chief of Staff forcibly kissed her, sticking his tongue down her throat.
Her legislation, the ME TOO Congress Act, became the basis of the bipartisan Congressional Accountability Act (CAA) Reform Act that was signed into law in December 2018. When Congresswoman Speier first started working on Congressional sexual harassment in 2014, she was told by a fellow colleague that anti-harassment training would never see the light of day. Today, thanks to the CAA Reform Act and a related resolution, anti-harassment training is mandatory. Survivors are also no longer forced to undergo mandatory counseling, mediation, and cooling-off periods and workers can’t be silenced with forced non-disclosure agreements. Moreover, interns and fellows have the same protections as permanent staff, employees can be heard in anonymous and regular climate surveys, and Members must personally cover the costs for their harassing behavior, not taxpayers. As a result of these efforts, employees also now have legal representation and counseling through the Office of Employee Advocacy so that the U.S. House of Representatives is no longer exclusively providing counsel to Member offices accused of misconduct.
The CAA Reform Act went into effect in June 2019 and has already made tremendous progress in people’s lives. However, Congresswoman Speier’s work is not finished. She and Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-AL) introduced H.R. 5464, the CAA Enhancement Act to further bolster protections for staff and hold Members financially responsible for their discriminatory behavior.
To ensure that the private-sector faces the same reckoning, Congresswoman Speier is a strong supporter of H.R. 2148, the BE HEARD Act, which would prohibit mandatory arbitration, lengthen the statute of limitations to file claims, and extend rights to workers in small businesses and independent contractors. She’s also a cosponsor of H.R. 1521, the EMPOWER Act, to prohibit mandatory non-disclosure agreements, require public companies to report their settlements and judgments, and reform the tax code so as to not punish survivors. And Congresswoman Speier has co-hosted three congressional hearings on workplace harassment with the bipartisan Women’s Caucus, helping to ensure this issue gets the attention it deserves.
Reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act
Nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner and 1 in 5 women are raped in their lifetime. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is landmark legislation that responds to the epidemic of sexual assault, stalking, dating violence, and domestic violence. VAWA has ensured that survivors can access lifesaving services and supports, provided law enforcement with necessary tools, and disseminated resources to community-based organizations to prevent and address violence when it occurs. Since the passage of VAWA in 1994, non-fatal domestic violence has decreased by 67 percent.
For many, the Violence Against Women Act is a matter of life or death. Shamefully, Congress allowed VAWA to expire in February 2019. The U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1585, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, in March 2019, but Senator Mitch McConnell refuses to take it up because he is more beholden to the deep pockets of the NRA than to victims around the country. Reauthorizing VAWA is essential for lifting severely outdated funding caps, closing loopholes in our gun laws that allow abusers to kill and injure women, and expand housing protections and financial assistance for survivors to rebuild their lives. Congresswoman Speier will continue to make reauthorizing VAWA a top priority.
Eradicating the Scourge of Sexual Violence in the Military
Congresswoman Speier joined the House Armed Services Committee nearly a decade ago to combat the malignant problem of sexual violence within the military. Since that time, she has fought for the rights of military sexual assault survivors and instituted groundbreaking reforms within the military criminal justice system. She has overseen the implementation of the Special Victim’s Counsel Program, which provides legal representation for sexual assault survivors, major reforms to the Article 32 process, and limiting the role commanders play throughout the military criminal justice process to safeguard justice for survivors.
Despite recent progress, military sexual assault remains one of the most troubling issues within our military. Over the past two years, instances of unwanted sexual contact within the military increased by 38 percent but survivor reporting rates dropped from 41 percent to 38 percent. It is unacceptable that thousands of servicemembers continue to be sexually assaulted every year. Congress must remain vigilant in its oversight of the Department of Defense’s prevention and response practices. In the House-passed version of the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Congresswoman Speier championed monumental reforms to report policies for collateral misconduct such as drinking, the expansion of the special victim’s counsel program, and a pilot program creating a Chief Prosecutor to review all sexual assault cases at the service academies outside of the chain of command.
For more information about Congresswoman Speier’s work to eradicate sexual violence in the military, go to the Military Sexual Violence page.
Prevention and Accountability for Campus Sexual Assault
One in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted on college campuses. Approximately 56 percent of girls and 40 percent of boys in grades 7-12 are sexually harassed in any given year. This epidemic of violence has both emotional and economic consequences. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that a single rape can cost $122,461 per survivor. Survivors are also three times more likely to suffer from depression, six times more likely to have post-traumatic stress disorder, and four times more likely to contemplate suicide.
Any progress is increasingly threatened by the Trump Administration’s Education Department which is more preoccupied with protecting perpetrators than their victims. Secretary DeVos has released a proposed rule that will make it harder to hold perpetrators responsible and will make schools and college campuses more dangerous. For example, under the proposed changes schools can avoid addressing a sexual assault that occurred off-campus and victims can be cross-examined during proceedings by the perpetrator’s advisor of choice. To protect against Secretary DeVos’ proposed Title IX rollbacks, Congresswoman Speier introduced the Title IX Protection Act, which codifies Obama-era policies that helped keep students safe.
To proactively prevent sexual violence and hold perpetrators accountable, Congresswoman Speier also authored H.R. 3381, the HALT Campus Sexual Violence Act, which increases penalties for violating the Clery Act, allows the Department of Education to issue penalties for noncompliance with Title IX, and creates a private right of action for students harmed by schools that fail to meet safety requirements.
Congresswoman Speier also introduced the Federal Funding Accountability for Sexual Harassers Act, groundbreaking legislation to increase transparency and accountability around the use of taxpayer funds to support research professors with a history of sexual violence and sex discrimination.