The ACLU has argued more women's rights cases before the United States Supreme Court than any other organization. Despite the great strides that have been made in recent decades, gender discrimination remains a very real concern. This discrimination still takes many forms – glass ceilings in the workplace, differential treatment in health insurance coverage, attempts to limit access to reproductive health care, and so on.
It was only ten years ago that the ACLU of Rhode Island had to file a lawsuit to overturn a state law that gave a town a one-time exemption from the Fair Employment Practices Act in order to allow its acquisition of an all-male private fire and rescue service. Until full equality is a reality, the ACLU will continue its advocacy work in support of women’s rights.
“Women’s rights are an essential part of the overall human rights agenda, trained on the equal dignity and ability to live in freedom all people should enjoy.”
– Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court Justice and Founder of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project
Women's Rights at the State House
Abortion Health Insurance Ban (H 7467)
Sometimes, simply having a law declared unconstitutional isn’t enough to remove it from the books entirely. Unconstitutional statutes linger in the General Laws, causing confusion to those who aren’t versed in constitutional history and – in the case of abortion laws – providing false information to people about their rights. In February, the ACLU testified before the House Corporations committee in support of legislation sponsored by Representative Joseph Almeida (H 7467) removing from the General Laws two provisions regarding health insurance coverage for abortion that were struck down long ago, following challenge by the ACLU. The first required abortion coverage to be offered only as an optional rider, at additional expense to women. The second barred municipalities from offering abortion coverage to their employees. The ACLU urged deletion of both outdated laws, and further encouraged the elimination of a law prohibiting abortion coverage for state employees.
Gender Rating in Health Insurance (H 7513)
Nationwide, women have historically been charged more for the same health insurance as men, solely because of their gender, leaving women less able to purchase vital health care coverage. This practice, known as gender rating, became illegal for certain health care plans under the federal Affordable Care Act, but gaps in Rhode Island law may allow the practice to continue. Legislation sponsored by Representative Katherine Kazarian (H 7513) will close these gaps and ensure gender rating does not occur in Rhode Island, regardless of any changes to federal law. The ACLU testified before the House Corporations committee in support of this legislation in February. The Senate has approved similar legislation annually for the last several years; the House has never moved the legislation out of committee.
Shackling of Pregnant Prisoners (H 7613)
In March, the ACLU testified before the House Judiciary committee in support of legislation sponsored by Representative Shelby Maldonado (H 7613) to strengthen the state’s limitation on shackling pregnant incarcerated women. The physical restraint of pregnant inmates during transport, labor, delivery and recovery is viewed as a major human rights and civil rights concern, within the United States and internationally. A restrained pregnant woman cannot move freely or control her balance, placing both her and her fetus at risk. While Rhode Island law generally prohibits the shackling of pregnant women during transport to a medical facility, labor, delivery or postpartum recovery, recent review of the law revealed some gaps that may leave pregnant prisoners vulnerable. This legislation will expand the law to prohibit shackling during transport to or from a court proceeding during a pregnant inmate’s third trimester, when their mobility and balance are significantly limited. The legislation also imposes a reporting requirement, so state officials can keep track of the number of pregnant women incarcerated during the prior year, the outcome of their pregnancy, and the numbers of pregnant women restrained. Read the facts about the bill here.