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Women's Rights

The Campaign To Defeat The Era

After a fifty-year struggle, in March 1972 Congress approved the EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT (ERA), a move that appeared to pave the way for the quick and easy adoption of the amendment by the states. Under the Constitution, thirty-eight states are required for ratification, and within a year of congressional approval, thirty states had ratified the amendment. At this point, however, a concerted opposition campaign stopped the momentum for the ERA dead in its tracks.

The most intense opposition to the ERA came from conservative religious and political organizations, including the right-wing John Birch Society and STOP ERA, a group led by conservative firebrand Phyllis S. Schlafly. Supporters of the ERA had cast it as mainly a tool to improve the economic position of women. Opponents, however, saw the amendment as a means of undermining traditional cultural values, especially those concerned with the family and the role of women in U.S. society. The U.S. Supreme Court's decision legalizing ABORTION, ROE V. WADE, 410 U.S. 113, 93 S. Ct. 705, 35 L. Ed. 2d 147 (1973), also affected the ratification struggle, as the emerging right-to-life movement saw the ERA as an additional legal basis for a woman's right to an abortion.

During the 1970s and early 1980s, fierce LOBBYING took place in state legislatures that were considering the ERA. Opponents pointed out that during the U.S. Senate debate on the ERA, a host of amendments that would have restricted the reach of the amendment were defeated. These included prohibitions against drafting women into the military and allowing women to serve in combat. The defeat of other amendments to the ERA led opponents to claim that women would lose the right to CHILD SUPPORT and certain special privileges and exemptions based in state and federal law. Opponents also warned that the passage of the ERA would lead to unisex public toilet facilities and the ABOLITION of traditionally gender-based segregated facilities. Finally, many opponents saw the ERA as a means to remove criminal laws dealing with homosexual acts.

Although the deadline for ratification was extended for thirty months, ERA supporters were never able to gain the additional states needed for ratification.

FURTHER READINGS

Berry, Mary Frances. 1986. Why ERA Failed: Politics, Women's Rights, and the Amending Process of the Constitution. Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press.

Hoff-Wilson, Joan. 1986. Rights of Passage: The Past and Future of the ERA. Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press.

Mansbridge, Jane J. 1986. Why We Lost the ERA. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Alyce Faye Wattleton to Zoning - Further ReadingsWomen's Rights - Nineteenth Century Women's Rights Movement, The Campaign To Defeat The Era, Domestic Relations In The Nineteenth Century