EAST PEORIA -- The Illinois chapter of the National Organization for Women doesn’t hold any illusions about women in today’s world.
Women don’t need more shopping or more beauty products or anything else the commercial society offers to confuse them about their role and place.
They need legal rights that are enforced, including equal pay and reproductive rights, so they can control their own lives. After years of rule by the Bush administration, those rights are now in jeopardy.
That was the message at the Sept. 29 conference held at Illinois Central College where speakers focused on what can and should be done now to improve the lives of women. Politics comes first.
Illinois NOW has endorsed Hillary Rodham Clinton for president.
“When women take charge it will be a different world,” said Illinois NOW president Bonnie Grabenhofer. “Women’s lives will be important. Policies will reflect women’s concerns. No sexism, racism, homophobia. (Just) justice and equality.”
Peoria attorney Patricia Benassi, who received the group’s Ida B. Wells award for her high-profile victories for women discriminated against in the Mitsubishi Motors case, spoke on a panel on legal issues and delivered the keynote address.
In her speech, Benassi stressed the importance of the upcoming presidential election. “Our choices are going to affect every man, woman and child, the elderly, the world. We are in a profound time historically. We have to decide whether we will change where we are going,” she said.
“Under the leadership of George Bush and the right wing, the US has lost its leadership for freedom, tolerance and justice,” she said. After 9-11, “under the guise of protecting ourselves” the Bush administration “violated the Constitution and engaged in criminal activity throughout the world. (They) used (US) power and strength to bully and destroy rather than help” and engaged in “preventive war that makes us the aggressor.”
She mentioned the now familiar list of outrages, from secret prisons and torture to the widening gap between the rich and everyone else. “We are outraged and disgusted.”
She endorsed Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose nominees to the US Supreme Court will reflect her values. “She has consistently voted for civil rights. She took on health care and education. She cares about people and is a team player who can get along with everyone including Republicans,” Benassi concluded.
Meanwhile, the threats to equal pay and reproductive rights continue from a hostile Supreme Court.
In a panel discussion on legal issues, Benassi discussed the Ledbetter case, which refused to allow a woman suffering from pay discrimination to collect what was owed her. “It shows a complete lack of understanding of the world. It is hostile to women and other protected minorities.”
Congress may overturn this decision since it goes against established law, she said.
Lori Chaiten of the American Civil Liberties Union said the Supreme Court’s April 18 decision on the so-called “partial birth abortion” ban overturned “years of precedents” and bans common procedures for abortion and miscarriages that could be used to protect a women’s health and fertility.
The court relied on “junk science to restrict rights,” she said. Overturning this decision in Congress is possible, she said, but unlikely now. Clinton twice vetoed this legislation, but Bush signed it and his appointees on the Court upheld it.
A pro-choice presidential administration could issue narrow guidelines for enforcement, she said.
The issues in Illinois include a parental notification law on abortion for teens, passed years ago under Republican rule, even though notices elsewhere have led to deaths by teens afraid to tell their parents. It’s not yet in effect. Each county court must come up with guidelines for the law, said panelist Lori Post.
The statute is under challenge, Chaiten said. “We have lots of strategies up our sleeve.”
Meanwhile the Illinois Reproductive Privacy Act has been introduced in the General Assembly to protect abortion rights. But it’s “on the back burner,” Post said.
Those at the meeting also discussed the controversy over a Planned Parenthood clinic in Aurora where abortions would be performed along with other women’s health care. Anti-choice activists have intimidated city officials into delaying the permit to open.
The controversy has brought new visibility to NOW, whose officers have been interviewed, quoted, and have developed new relationships with reporters, NOW leaders said.
Illinois NOW’s president Grabenhofer expressed her delight in meeting in the Peoria area. “When we think of Peoria we think of Betty Friedan,” she said.