The tortuous path from ERA failure to late Roe | Women’s rights

In recent years, almost everything in the United States has turned like buttermilk in the hot summer sun. The US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade and take away the constitutional right to abortion is just the latest example.

A few days after the Court’s decision, the rape of a 10-year-old girl attracted international attention. Gerson Fuentes, 27, who confessed to the crime, had raped the child on at least two occasions. As if the rape of a 10-year-old child wasn’t brutal enough, Ohio’s newly activated anti-abortion law has made it impossible for this child to have an abortion in the state, all because that she was more than six weeks pregnant.

There’s more than enough blame for America’s cultural decline, especially with former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and former President Donald J. the United States arrived in that precipice long before 2017. In fact, they reached it 40 years ago, when they failed to ratify an amendment to their constitution that would have codified women’s equality.

Disappearance of ERA

In 1972, bipartisan majorities in the US House and Senate passed what should have been the 28th Amendment to the US Constitution. In 1973, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) – the key passage of which is that “equal rights under law shall not be denied or restricted by the United States or any state in reason of sex” – had been ratified by 30 States. To pass as a constitutional amendment, that number had to reach 38 in 1982. It failed to do so – revealing both misogyny and the unwillingness of the United States to protect the civil rights of half of its citizens. and the limits of the second wave, the “universal” feminism of white women.

Although the ERA makes no direct mention of reproductive rights, failure to ratify it helped pave the winding road for their removal. If women had been given equal rights to white men, as required by the ERA, this would have included rights over their own bodies and thus would have served as the basis for codifying Roe v Wade into law. But thanks to far-right activist Phyllis Schlafly and her “pro-life, pro-family” STOP ERA (Stop Taking Our Privileges For Equal Rights) rallies, enthusiasm for ERA quickly began. to decline.

So what exactly was Schlafly’s argument against the law? “Since it is the women who bear the babies…our laws and customs then place a financial obligation on the husband to provide for the needs…. And that is exactly and precisely what we will lose if the Equal Rights Amendment passes,” Schlafly said in a speech just weeks after the Supreme Court’s March 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

His argument that the ERA would take away rights from (white) “housewives” or “housewives” and allow (white) men to abandon their duties to their (white) children gradually eroded support for the ‘ERA. In 1977, Schlafly led a coalition of counter-protesters against the National Women’s Conference in Houston, calling it “the death knell of the women’s liberation movement”. His was a rally of 15,000 made up mostly of white families with young children, where attendees “unanimously passed resolutions against abortion, the proposed equal rights amendment and rights lesbians”.

Schlafly understood a key weakness of second-wave feminism, which meant that its proponents encountered little resistance. As Anastasia Toufexis, editor and managing editor of Time Magazine, wrote in a 1982 article, second-wave feminism “there has been a failure to recruit unemployed, minority women.” For years, white feminists assumed that professional white women could ultimately represent the interests of all women. This is reflected in the use of “women” without a demographic qualifier, automatically excluding black women, women of color, and working-class white women. The resulting lack of a broad and diverse movement left the door open for Schlafly to recruit stay-at-home moms and other white women who might have agreed with second-wave feminist ideals, but who otherwise felt excluded from the movement. The fact that feminist and anti-feminist movements centered on the needs and desires of the “universal” woman ultimately weakened all efforts to expand women’s rights and sealed the fate of ERA.

In 1999, Schlafly said, “ERA stands for abortion funding, stands for gay privilege, stands for whatever else.” It was the “whatever else” that Schlafly and her army of anti-feminist activists focused on in the 1970s. Their objections included white women serving and dying in military combat roles, toilets unisex in public places and white women seeking full-time jobs.

While abortion would also have been an issue for many white conservative evangelicals, it was not the main argument of the conservative movement against the ERA until it was almost completely dead. What was always a concern for anti-ERA supporters, however, was government intervention in areas they believed to be outside of government jurisdiction. This included the implications of the ERA for same-sex marriage and the definition of gender itself.

The late televangelist and founder of the Moral Majority, the Reverend Jerry Falwell, said the same in his take on ERA. Under the guise of “saving the family”, Falwell helped bring together a coalition of white conservatives for a 1980 conference in Dallas to urge their members to vote for conservatives such as Ronald Reagan, who later became president.

The key issue for the band was to stop the ERA. “In fact, we believe in greater rights for women…I believe that if the Equal Rights Amendment is ratified, there will be many men who are sorry for abandoning their wives” , Falwell said in his double interview with journalist Bill Moyers. Falwell also said the ERA contained “ambiguous wording – ‘there shall be no discrimination on grounds of sex’ – that would mean same-sex marriages could not be banned anywhere…and that I think would be a repudiation of our belief that the traditional role of family is correct.”

There is nothing in the language of ERA that attacks the role of women as stay-at-home mothers, the role of fathers as patriarchal providers, or supports the role of same-sex couples in parenthood. But the ERA met its demise at the stroke of midnight on June 30, 1982, anyway.

Although the path from the demise of the ERA to the overthrow of Roe is not straightforward, there is an almost straight line between the end of the ERA and the enactment of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996. .

For 16 years, DOMA allowed states to deny marriage recognition to same-sex couples. With DOMA came another boost to the anti-abortion movement, particularly the argument that “traditional housewives” should be the ones who bear and raise America’s children. It was legislation that Schlafly and Falwell wholeheartedly supported, legislation that President Bill Clinton unequivocally signed into law, and action that Hillary Clinton indirectly supported for nearly 20 years.

With Donald Trump operating on an anti-abortion platform, he won Schlafly’s enthusiastic support in the months before his death in September 2016. She even wrote The Conservative Case for Trump with two other authors, published the week of her dead. Schlafly, along with the 47% of white women who voted for Trump in 2016, formed a plurality of this demographic voting bloc, mostly in favor of overthrowing Roe.

The glide path that has reproductive rights to a bed in an intensive care unit in the United States began when a once-obvious law codifying women’s equality soured under the scorching sun of institutional misogyny and the whiteness. This is now why a 10-year-old rape survivor can be interrogated for having an abortion across state lines instead of receiving the care and sympathy that any child victim of penetrable and potentially dead assault deserves. by pregnancy.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.