- President of the Feminist Majority Foundation
- Former President of the National Organization for Women
- Supports abortion-on-demand
- Has likened conservatives in the United States to the Taliban and al Qaeda
Eleanor Smeal is the current President of the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) and a former President of the National Organization for Women (NOW). Throughout her feminist career, she has been committed to protecting women's right to abortion-on-demand. In 1979 Time magazine named Smeal as one of the "50 Faces for America's Future," and in 1983 The World Almanac rated her the fourth most influential woman in the United States.
Smeal was born in July 1939 in Ashtabula, Ohio. She graduated from Strong Vincent High School in 1957 and from Duke University in 1961. She went on to earn a Master's degree in political science from the University of Florida and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Law degree by Duke.
In 1970 Smeal joined NOW, where she served as President from 1977 to 1982 and again from 1985 to 1987. During her first term at NOW's helm, she led an unsuccessful campaign to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). In 1986 she organized and directed America's first national abortion-rights march in Washington, DC; the event drew some 100,000 participants and is considered a watershed moment in the history of pro-abortion activism.
Smeal parted ways with NOW in 1987, having found the organization to be "too conservative" for her taste. That same year, she created the Feminist Majority Foundation to "focus on advancing the legal, social and political equality of women with men, countering the backlash to women's advancement, and recruiting and training young feminists to encourage future leadership for the feminist movement in the United States."
In November 1993 Smeal testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights," where she called for the ratification of the Violence Against Women Act. Said Smeal:
"The civil rights provision in this bill is a critical recognition that women -- as a class of persons who have been historically discriminated against and have been treated as inferior throughout time -- are at risk of violence because they are women…. Violent crimes against women are of an epidemic proportion ... [forcing] women to live in constant fear of [sic] their physical well-being and indeed their lives."
Smeal's professed concern about the abuse of women took a back seat to her political loyalties in 1997, when she emerged as one of President Bill Clinton's staunchest defenders during the Paula Jones sexual harassment scandal, claiming that the Jones affair was a "put-up job by the [political] right." Smeal also criticized Juanita Broaddrick for claiming (in 1998) that Mr. Clinton had raped her (Broaddrick) two decades earlier.
Smeal was the architect of the Free Access to Clinic Entrances legislation that President Clinton signed into law in 1994. This bill prohibited threats and acts of force or physical obstruction that might interfere in any way with an individual seeking access to, or providing, abortion services.
Smeal played a key role in the 1994 court case Madsen v. Women's Health Center, which barred anti-abortion demonstrators from setting foot within a 36-foot buffer zone outside the entrance to an abortion clinic, and prohibited them from making noise that could be heard by patients inside the clinic.
Smeal spearheaded the 1995 establishment of the "National Clinic Defense Project" (NCDP), which, as of 2008, had trained some 45,000 volunteers in "non-violent clinic defense techniques" aimed at preventing pro-life protesters from interfering with the operation of abortion clinics.
Another Smeal initiative with FMF was the "Choices Campus Leadership Program," which, by 2007, had trained pro-abortion student activists at some 176 colleges in 43 states.
Smeal has been a longtime proponent of race- and gender-based hiring quotas; toward that end, in 1996 she worked, unsuccessfully, to defeat California's Proposition 209, which outlawed affirmative action in that state's public sector.
Also for many years, Smeal has been a consistent supporter of Title IX, a 1972 law which stipulates that in all federally funded schools, the funding given to female sports teams must proportionately match that given to male teams -- even in cases where female squads attract far fewer spectators and generate far less revenue than the male teams.
In 1998 Smeal was a signatory to the "Declaration of Sentiments," which was identified as as "a blueprint for the future of [the] feminist movement, communicating a shared vision for women's equality in the 21st century." This document stated:
"Without sufficient enforcement of human rights standards, the globalization of the economy has worsened the marginal existence of hundreds of millions of women. The growing economic inequality within and between countries threatens our peaceful co-existence... The neglect and pillage of the environment and disregard for the resources necessary for sustainable development diminish lives today and for future generations."
A month after the 2000 presidential election, where George W. Bush's victory over Al Gore had been marred by the infamous Florida recount controversy, Smeal wrote:
"The U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 decision to stop the recounting and remand the case of undercounted ballots back to the Florida Supreme Court has disparately penalized women and people of color who voted disproportionately for Gore nationwide....
Not counting the votes that machines failed to count disenfranchised some voters and devalued the majority of votes of women and people of color.... Why was the constitutional balance of the 13th and 19th Amendments that granted blacks and women the right to vote left out of the equation in the Supreme Court's decision [declaring Bush the winner]?"
In 2004 Smeal supported Democrat presidential candidate John Kerry and was a signatory to a "Pledge of Action to Stop a Stolen Election." "I remember the stolen presidential election of 2000," the statement said, "and I am willing to take action [by protesting] in 2004 if the election is stolen again." Other signers included Medea Benjamin, Julian Bond, Leslie Cagan, Barbara Ehrenreich, Jesse Jackson, Michael Lerner, Barbara Lubin, Michael Moore, Gloria Steinem, and Howard Zinn. This "Pledge" campaign was a joint project of United for Peace & Justice, Global Exchange, Code Pink, and The Liberty Tree Foundation for the Democratic Revolution.
When John Kerry in 2004 suggested that he might, if elected President, be willing to appoint pro-life judges to the federal courts, Smeal declared that a pro-choice stance ought to be a non-negotiable prerequisite for judges.
In an effort to derail legislative measures aimed at placing some restrictions on women's access to abortion, Smeal in October 2006 helped put together a Ms. magazine cover story -- titled "We Had Abortions" -- which listed the names of thousands of women who had terminated a pregnancy at some point in their lives. (Ms. magazine is published by the Feminist Majority Foundation.) "Women who have had abortions are standing up and taking the debate out of the hands of the politicians," said Smeal. "The time for slogans and rhetoric is over." The petition, whose most notable signer was feminist activist Gloria Steinem, was forwarded to Congress, the White House, and state legislatures.
A fierce critic of the Bush administration, Smeal said in 2007: "This current president is in the pocket of the Roman Catholic bishops and right-wing ministers who should clean their own houses and stop interfering with a woman's right to family planning and abortion."
Smeal is featured in the "Pioneer Feminists Project" campaign of the Veteran Feminists of America (VFA). Dedicated to documenting "the contributions of early Second Wave feminists active in 1975 or earlier," this work, says VFA, consists of avtivists' "first-hand account[s] of what [they] did, where and when, for reference and research by historians, teachers, journalists, librarians, ourselves …" Some photos displayed in this project show feminist activists holding signs that read, "Housewives Are Unpaid Slaves"; "Oppressed Women: Don't Cook a Dinner! Starve a Rat Today!"; and "End Human Sacrifice! Don't Get Married! Washing Diapers Is Not Fulfilling." Also featured in the campaign is Gloria Steinem, co-founder of the Ms. Foundation for Women.
Smeal has likened American conservatives -- particularly those who oppose abortion -- to Islamic terrorists, claiming that both groups are characterized by raging intolerance. Said Smeal in a 2001 interview:
"The extremist groups in the United States frighteningly resemble the al Qaeda and the Taliban. They have similar identities.... Both want to use capital punishment for adultery, homosexuality, abortion, apostasy, etc. Both are using violence and terror as a strategy to achieve their ends. Both are targeting Jews, religious minorities, homosexuals, feminists and Americans. Both are using a cell structure with plausible deniability. I could go on and on about the similarities."
Over the years, Smeal has given money to the campaigns of a number of political candidates, all Democrats. Most prominent among the donees are Barbara Boxer, Hillary Clinton, Carol Moseley Braun, and Ted Kennedy.