ERA Summit Report
by Guest Writer Linda Joplin
Implementing the resolution adopted at the 1994 National NOW Conference in San Antonio, Texas, a NOW ERA
Strategy Summit was held on Jan. 27 and 28 for the purpose of developing recommended language for consideration
at the 1995 National NOW Conference in Columbus, Ohio.
On Friday evening, NOW President Patricia Ireland set the stage when she spoke about "Why We Need an ERA."
She began by saying that the goal is not for women to be treated equally to men, but to be equal to men.
What needs to take place is a paradigm shift. Under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, women
and men have to be treated equally only if they are "similarly situated" and if the government doesn't have a "good"
reason for treating them differently. Unfortunately the reason is not subject to "strict scrutiny" by the court. The
reality is that women and men are different, and courts have gone out of their way to find a difference in their
situations that is then used to justify discrimination. If the equality standard is the male standard, women lose.
Instead of asking whether women are being treated equally to men, Ireland argued, we must craft an amendment that
forces courts to ask whether women are disadvantaged relative to men. This approach would reach, for example,
discrimination based on pregnancy or child care responsibilities.
Brief ERA History
Former NOW President Ellie Smeal, currently president of the Fund for a Feminist Majority, spoke candidly about the
history of the ERA. A few of the items she mentioned were:
- It was only after NOW activists disrupted a meeting of the Senate Subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments
that a hearing on the ERA was finally scheduled for May 1970.
- In 1972, when the ERA finally was approved by Congress, NOW activists were witnesses not leaders. Because
there were so few women in Congress, we did not participate in the development of the legislative history of the ERA.
Our Congressional "supporters" not only allowed the language and history to be weakened, but then defeated key
votes that would have specified that it had been watered down -- thus allowing our opponents to argue that it was
stronger than it really was.
- In 1977, knowing the ERA was in trouble, NOW pushed for an extension of the time limit for passage. That
proposal lost by one vote in the Judiciary Committee. To prevent state legislatures from considering the ERA after
reapportionment and redistricting, which would have increased the number of women legislators in key states,
Congress approved only a three year and three month extension.
- It is a myth that women defeated the ERA. At the time, only a small percentage of state legislators were women.
And those women who were members of state legislatures overwhelmingly supported the ERA. Not one Black
legislator voted against the ERA.
- The people were overwhelmingly with us, as was demonstrated in poll after poll. The real opposition to the ERA
was silent and stayed in the background. For example, during the Illinois campaign for passage of the ERA, Smeal
was shown an internal General Electric memo outlining their reasons for opposing the ERA. It talked about wages,
benefits, health insurance and money. At the time women were making 59 cents for every man's dollar. Someone was
pocketing 41 cents. If you think the ERA was a debate about the draft or single-sex toilets, you're wrong; it was and
is about money.
- Insurance companies were also major players behind the defeat of the ERA. They wanted to continue their
discriminatory practices. In Florida, the "dean" of the Senate was a partner in a law firm that represented 14 insurance
companies. Guess which way the Florida Senate voted? The same was true in many other states; the number one
ERA opponent in Louisiana was a state legislator who was an insurance defense attorney.
- The ERA was defeated by a total of six votes in three states.
Past Work on a New ERA
At the ERA plenary session held during the 1994 National NOW Conference, participants argued for an expanded
concept of equality to be part of any new Equal Rights Amendment.
Some said discrimination based on sexual orientation is "sex discrimination," and should be treated that way. Others
asked: If a person is denied the opportunity to do something, such as getting married or adopting a child, based
upon their gender (or the gender of the person they have a relationship with) isn't that "sex discrimination?"
Participants also argued that women cannot control our bodies or our destinies without freedom from coerced
pregnancy or coerced abortion. Clearly, they said, the right to bodily integrity is required before women will fully
enjoy the benefits of equal citizenship -- and therefore must be a part of any constitutional strategy.
The resolution finally adopted by NOW members from around the country at the 1994 conference sets forth the basic
principle that any new ERA amendment must include specific language that guarantees an end to discrimination
based on gender, sexual orientation, reproductive decisions and reproductive status.
The ERA Summit Proposal
The major purpose of the ERA Summit was to draft proposed language that will be presented for consideration at the
upcoming National NOW Conference in Columbus, Ohio. The more than 100 NOW
board members, state presidents, and activists who attended the Summit worked all day and late into the night to
It is unlikely that the Republican-controlled Congress will pass any Equal Rights Amendment, even a weak version,
given that they removed support for the ERA from their platform in 1980.
If the dream of women's equality is ever to become a reality, it is critical that we effectively utilize this time to organize
support for an Equal Rights Amendment that will guarantee constitutional equality for all women.
NOW members are urged to attend the National NOW Conference, July 21-23, in Columbus, Ohio, to share in the
development of the next campaign for the ERA.
ERA Summit Report
The following proposed language was adopted by the ERA Summit for presentation to the July 1995 NOW
"Women and men shall have equal rights and privileges regardless of class, without discrimination
based on sex, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, race, ethnicity, national origin or color in the United States
and every place and entity subject to its jurisdiction. Women's equality includes the absolute right to make
reproductive decisions including termination of pregnancy and to be free from pregnancy discrimination. This does
not preclude any law, program or activity that would remedy the effects of prior discrimination."
ERA Summit Minority Report
There is support for the minority report to be reported to the floor at the conference. We wish the language to be
concise, clear, simple, effective, focused and inclusive. Examples of such could be the Alice Paul language, or the 1982 language, or the following:
"Women and men shall have equality of rights, privileges and liberties throughout the U.S. and in
every place and entity subject to its jurisdiction."
We insist that any form that is adopted include a full legislative history specifically including lesbian rights and
protection of all categories as well as reproduction freedom.
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