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"Women's Bill of Rights" created by secretive group that opposes women's rights
On April 27, the Republican-controlled Kansas legislature overrode Governor Laura Kelly’s (D) veto to pass a law that legally defines an individual’s sex as “an individual’s sex at birth, either male or female.” The law, referred to as a “Women’s Bill of Rights,” defines a female as “an individual whose biological reproductive system is developed to produce ova.”
The new law in Kansas is the most high-profile success of a well-financed and systematic campaign to establish anti-trans policies across the country. It is being coordinated by a secretive group that has consistently opposed policies that protect and expand women's rights.
The law states that “with respect to biological sex, separate accommodations are not inherently unequal” and that “distinctions between the sexes [are to] be considered substantially related to… protecting the health, safety, and privacy of individuals” in certain spaces. The spaces include restrooms, domestic violence centers, rape crisis centers, locker rooms, and athletic facilities.
The new law attempts to erase transgender individuals by excluding them from spaces deemed as “women only.” “The Kansas bill would certainly be among the most restrictive ones that we’ve seen in the country — one of the most expansive, one of the most extreme and really just one of the most mean spirited and hurtful,” ACLU of Kansas Executive Director Micah Kubic said, according to Politico.
The original bill, SB 180, was based on model legislation written by the Independent Women’s Voice (IWV) in collaboration with the Independent Women’s Law Center and Women's Liberation Front. The IWV is the action arm of the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF), a dark money group that claims to fight to “expand women’s options and opportunities.”
The IWF website states that the group is an “educational” non-profit “dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance freedom, opportunities, and well-being.” But while the group publicly claims to be non-partisan, it has extensive right-wing ties. In 2016, CEO of IWV and Chairman of IWF Heather R. Higgins admitted in a speech, “Being branded as neutral, but actually having people who know know that you’re actually conservatives puts us in a unique position.”
In March 2022, the IWV introduced the model legislation for a “women’s bill of rights” and called for legislation to “protect biological sex as a distinct legal category,” stating that the “basic definition” of “woman” has “come under fire in recent years by activists who dispute the biological basis of womanhood.” According to the IWF website, the “women’s bill of rights” was introduced to “counter transgender ideology.”
On April 27, the group celebrated the passing of Kansas’ new law, stating that it protects “women’s rights to privacy, safety, and equal opportunity.” The statement continued to say that the law will “prevent judges, unelected bureaucrats, and administrators in Kansas from unilaterally redefining the word ‘woman’ to mean anyone who ‘identifies as a woman.’”
IWF/V is now fighting for similar legislation to be passed across the country. Similar bills have already been introduced in multiple states, including Montana, Tennessee, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and North Dakota. In 2022, a federal bill was also introduced and sponsored by Representative Debbie Lesko (R-AZ). The bill was reintroduced by Lesko and Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) in February 2023.
While the IWF/V touts themselves as a group that fights for women’s rights, the reality is that the group has spent decades opposing substantive policies to protect and expand women’s rights.
IWF's fight against women's rights
According to the book Righting Feminism, IWF was formed in 1992 out of the coalition Women for Judge Thomas, a group that supported Justice Clarence Thomas’ nomination to the Supreme Court, despite the allegations of sexual harassment made by Anita Hill. Since then, the group has vehemently opposed legislation to advance and protect women’s rights, including the Equal Rights Amendment, the fight for equal pay, Title IX, child care investments, and comprehensive paid leave, according to research provided to Popular Information by True North Research.
The Equal Rights Amendment is a “proposed amendment to the United States Constitution designed to guarantee equal legal rights for all American citizens regardless of sex” and “seeks to end the legal distinctions between men and women.” An article published in January 2020 on IWF’s website argues that the Equal Rights Amendment would “replace equality with enforced sameness” and that the amendment would “add nothing to the equality under the law women already enjoy in America.” The article states, “[t]oday, men possess no legal rights that women do not, and no one imagines that women do not have the right to free speech, religious liberty, or due process as outlined in the Constitution.” The article concludes that passing the Equal Rights Amendment would have “devastating consequences.”
In April 2012, IWF also published an article stating that the claim that women are paid less than men is “false” and that there is “no evidence that women are routinely paid a fraction of what men make for the same work, or that discrimination drives statistical differences between men and women’s earnings.” The piece argues that “[f]eminist groups disserve women by promoting the false idea that the U.S. workplace is overwhelmingly sexist” and that “[w]omen are better off understanding that it’s the decisions they make— not systematic sexism—that determine how much they earn.”
The claim that there is no gender wage gap is false. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2022, “women earned an average of 82% of what men earned,” which is “similar to where the pay gap stood in 2002, when women earned 80% as much as men.”
The group has also fought to deregulate childcare facilities and opposed the Biden administration’s Build Back Better (BBB) legislation and its proposed expanded access to child care. According to True North Research, IWF spent “an estimated $20,000 in Facebook ads” opposing BBB’s expanded child care legislation. IWF has also opposed attempts to expand paid family leave and paid sick leave.
Who funds IWF?
Since as early as 1998, IWF has received extensive funding from non-profit groups controlled by right-wing billionaire and Koch Industries CEO Charles Koch.
The group received $100,000 from the Charles Koch Foundation in 2019, $150,000 from the Charles Koch Institute in 2021, and $50,000 from Americans for Prosperity in 2021 – bringing the total amount of contributions from Koch-controlled organizations to over $1,125,000.
The group’s leadership has also historically had a cozy relationship with the Koch network. Former IWF president and CEO Nancy Pfotenhauer, for instance, was once “Koch Industries’ top lobbyist in DC” and managed the company’s PAC activities.
In 2003, IWF announced that it would be formally partnering with the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity, sharing “staff and resources.” As a result of this new agreement, Pfotenhauer would become the president of both Americans for Prosperity and IWF, and report to David Koch, now deceased. Eventually, when Pfotenhauer stepped down as president and left IWF’s board, another former Koch lobbyist was placed on IWF's board.
The Center for Media and Democracy reports that “no fewer than half of the Independent Women’s Forum’s full-time staff previously worked directly for Koch-controlled groups or for entities that received Koch funding.” IWF’s current chairman, Higgins, is a longtime Koch operative. She was previously the director and secretary at the Koch-affiliated Center to Protect Patient Rights, and has fundraised for Koch groups over the years.