Three days after going public with an opinion piece deriding the Reagan administration's commitment to women, two days after quitting the Justice Department--where she worked to identify discriminatory laws--and two days after becoming an instant television celebrity, Barbara Honegger said she feels "like a piece of public property. I will be public property until the job is done."
The job, she said, is "getting the Equal Rights Amendment passed." She also plans to write a book--three literary agents have offered their services, she said--and sign on with a speakers' bureau so she can make her case to anyone willing to listen.
Honegger, 35, resigned from the Justice Department Monday, a day after her lengthy article in the opinion pages of The Washington Post labeled as "a sham" the administration's ERA alternative--a project to weed out or amend discriminatory statutes.
While writing the article, she said, she stayed at the house of her recently acquired media consultant. "I was afraid to be alone at home," she said. "I had the sense I was pregnant with a national baby . . . ."
Honegger said she turned against the administration in part because she decided it was not committed to her project and in part because the Justice Department had asked the Supreme Court to restrict the application of a major anti-discrimination law.
In her Aug. 21 resignation letter to Assistant Attorney General William Bradford Reynolds, Honegger wrote that she was resigning "as a conscientious objector to the policies of this department and this president."
Since then, she has been interviewed on every major television network, has appeared at a women's forum luncheon that included representatives from the major national women's groups, has acquired a rotating escort of women--many from these groups--and cannot get through lunch at a downtown restaurant without a minimum of two phone calls.
Asked what she would do next, she said, "I'm literally living day by day." She said she had less than $1,000 in her bank account. She wanted to make speeches to air her criticism of the administration, she said, but also wanted to know "where my next meal is coming from."
Even as administration spokesmen were noting her portrayal of the Easter Bunny during the White House Easter Egg Roll or passing out articles about her interest in parapsychology and the ability of the spirit to walk outside the body, Honegger was recounting for Ms. magazine the minute details of her service in the anti-discrimination effort.
She came to the administration as an aide to former domestic policy adviser Martin Anderson, and subsequently was appointed to head an 11-member "working group" to provide recommendations for changes in discriminatory laws to the presidential Task Force on Legal Equity for Women.
Honegger still had that "working group" role when she came to the Justice Department in March, 1982, to help conduct a computer search of the federal legal code and cull out discriminatory statutes. In that role, she presented the first "quarterly report" listing all discriminatory statutes passed through 1976. Also, she said yesterday, she drafted a report for White House legal aide Michael M. Uhlmann recommending changes in about 12 of the laws.
Shortly thereafter, she said, the White House "working group" was disbanded by Edwin L. Harper, who had replaced Anderson as domestic adviser.
"After review by the Cabinet Council on Legal Policy , recommendations . . . will be made to the task force headed by Assistant Attorney General Carol Dinkins," Harper said in a letter to Honegger.
Dinkins has resigned from the government and from the task force, and has not yet been replaced. White House spokesman C. Anson Franklin said yesterday that "the Cabinet Council makes policy recommendations" on any statutory changes. He added that the administration supports legislation introduced by Sen. Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) to eliminate legal distinctions based on sex in a variety of laws.
Franklin said he knew nothing about the report in which, Honegger said, she recommended statutory changes, but added that internal reports are not usually considered public documents. A Justice Department spokesman, who first said that the "working group" was disbanded "because it had no function," later referred questions about the group to the White House.