Laws that protect women’s rights, whether in the workplace, in the home, or (most contentiously) when it comes to their own bodies, are always controversial. And they can be hard to pass.
The Equal Rights Amendment, for instance, which would end legal discrimination against women, has been kicking around since 1923. Here’s a look at five of the proposed laws that aim to make the big changes in women’s lives.
Paycheck Fairness Act
An extension of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which forbade paying men and women different wages for the same work, this bill forbids employers from using salary history to set pay, allows women to disclose their salaries in order to investigate discrepancies in pay, puts the onus on employers to explain gendered wage gaps, and bans punitive action against women who draw attention to the wage gap, among other changes.
The bill was first introduced in 1997. The most recent iteration passed the House but is considered a long-shot in the Republican-controlled Senate. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, voted no.
Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2019
Signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994, this bill aims to protect victims of domestic abuse and reduce stigma. It must be reauthorized every few years — this bill would be the fourth such reauthorization.
The bill created the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the Office on Violence Against Women within the Department of Justice, established training programs for the criminal justice sector and pumped some $7 billion into grants for programs aimed at preventing domestic violence and helping its victims. Each reauthorization of the act has included new provisions and fresh controversy.
The 2019 version is opposed by the NRA due to a provision that makes it easier for police to take abusers’ guns. The bill easily passed the House and has moved to the Senate. Lamborn voted no.
The BE HEARD Act (Bringing an End to Harassment by Enhancing Accountability and Rejecting Discrimination in the Workplace)
This bill extends the prohibition against employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to all employees (not just those who work for companies with more than 15 employees), non-employees like contractors and volunteers, and LGBTQ people.
It replaces the requirement for courts to find sexual harassment was “severe or pervasive” for a victim to prevail, a condition that can be difficult to meet. The American Civil Liberties Union says it replaces that requirement with a “detailed roadmap” for judges and employers to evaluate behavior. The bill also makes it easier to win cases against certain types of supervisors for harassment and it prohibits employers from requiring blanket nondisclosure agreements.
The bill also directs the government to collect data on harassment and sets model policies for a harassment-free workplace. It was introduced in the House in April.
Women’s Health Protection Act
This bill protects abortion rights across the country, by banning laws that prohibit abortion prior to fetal viability (like “fetal heartbeat” bills). It also stops restrictions that single out abortion or make it more difficult to access. The bill, first introduced in 2013, has recently been introduced again in the House.
Equal Rights Amendment
Unlike the others on this list, the ERA isn’t a bill in Congress but a proposed constitutional amendment to end discrimination based on sex. It would erase legal divisions between men and women in divorce, property and other matters. First introduced in 1923, it was originally written by feminist icons Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman. Approved by the House in 1971 and the Senate in 1972, it was sent to the states for ratification. By the end of 1977, 35 of the needed 38 states had approved it. It likely would have passed, but conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly radicalized some women, most notably housewives, against the amendment saying it would disadvantage them in certain areas, particularly alimony and child custody cases.
Though deadlines for ratification have passed, and some states have attempted to rescind ratification, Nevada ratified the amendment in 2017 and Illinois in 2018.