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How Phyllis Schlafly Derailed the Equal Rights Amendment

March 19, 2020 in History

By Lesley Kennedy

The ERA was on track to become the 27th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Then a grassroots conservative movement halted its momentum.

In 1972, it seemed ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment was all but a sure thing.

First introduced to Congress in 1923 by suffragist Alice Paul, the proposed 27th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which stated “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex,” had passed with both bipartisan and public support and was sent to the state legislatures for ratification.

But the ERA included a seven-year ratification time limit clause (which Congress extended to 1982), and although 35 of 38 state legislatures needed for a three-quarters majority had voted to ratify the amendment, its proponents hadn’t counted on a conservative grassroots movement led by activist and lawyer Phyllis Schlafly that would ultimately lead to the ERA’s defeat, falling three states shorts.

“What I am defending is the real rights of women,” , and the Katzin Family Professor at Arizona State University, says one issue was the amendment was loose in its wording.

“That meant it was going to have to be interpreted by the courts and she—and her large number of followers—were concerned that the courts would interpret it as abortion on demand, same-sex marriage and women in the draft.” he says. “Furthermore, she felt that much of the legislation protecting women in pay and gender discrimination had already been enacted.”

The ERA got as far as it did, due to the work of second-wave feminists who had lobbied for years for its passage. Those who fought for the amendment included prominent figures such as Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan and Jane Fonda. Brandy Faulkner, a visiting assistant professor at Virginia Tech’s College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, says the feminist momentum influenced not only Congress, but also the U.S. Supreme Court. Faulkner points out that Eisenstadt v. Baird, which established the right of unmarried people to possess contraception on the same basis as married couples, passed in 1971—just a year after Congress passed the ERA.

Schlafly’s strategy to defeat the ERA was to convince women that equality between men and women was undesirable.

“She consistently painted worst-case scenarios which, when juxtaposed with the lives of average white women at that time, led many of them to believe that inequality wasn’t so bad …read more


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