The Equal Rights Amendment Seeks to Erase, Not Help, Women
Not to be deterred by deadlines that expired decades ago, supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) are once again attempting to resurrect this long-dead measure. On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing aimed at identifying a path forward to enshrine the ERA into the Constitution.
The ERA passed Congress in 1972 with a deadline that required 38 states to ratify it within seven years. Anticipating that it would fall shy of the required number of states, Congress passed a controversial resolution that attempted to extend the deadline to 1982 (later ruled to be unconstitutional by at least one court). Still, the ERA was never ratified. Instead, it sparked a heated nationwide battle between leftist women’s organizations and a scrappy movement of conservative women led by Phyllis Schlafly who was instrumental in eventually defeating the ERA.
The core text of the 1972 ERA is simple enough: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” Of course, we all want women to have equal rights under the law (which we do have). But proponents of the ERA say it will “end the legal distinctions between men and women.”
Ending legal distinctions between men and women is wrong precisely because there are distinctions between men and women. Men tend to be physically faster and stronger than women; as such, women deserve to have their own sports leagues and teams. Women tend to be more physically vulnerable; they deserve certain private women-only spaces, including in places like locker rooms, restrooms, safe-houses, and prisons. Women get pregnant and are physically tied to their young children in ways that men are not; employer and government benefits should support and empower women as they raise young children.
The differences between women and men are not bad, they’re beautiful. We don’t need a constitutional amendment that denies reality. We need the law to recognize reality and protect women in their distinction. For some of the activists pushing the ERA, this is no doubt a hard pill to swallow. The late Phyllis Schlafly had this to say to such activists: “If you don’t like this fundamental difference [between men and women], you will have to take up your complaint with God because He created us this way.”
Its supporters claim the ERA is critical to securing women’s rights. A website run by the Alice Paul Institute paints a dire picture of a future without the ERA by telling readers, “Think, Handmaid’s Tale.” Yet, the 14th Amendment already guarantees “equal protection of the laws.” Looking around in 2023, there does not appear to be a demand for equal rights that is not already met under current law, nor a rash of well-known cases in which women are being discriminated against that would warrant a constitutional amendment to address it. So, why are Democrats still seeking to enshrine the ERA?
With the Dobbs decision looming large in the minds of Democrats, the ERA could now be an especially welcome way to create a backdoor for a constitutional claim to abortion. Emma Waters, a researcher at the Heritage Foundation, explained, “Democrats argue that if a man has the right to not be pregnant, then women should also have the right to not be pregnant through abortion. This way, they could argue that the ERA ensures a constitutional right to abortion.”
While Democrats are no doubt eager to make this argument, it is fundamentally anti-woman. It disregards any particular significance to what women’s bodies do naturally. It views pregnancy as a weird fluke, a disease that interrupts our career trajectories. The thought goes, men don’t have to deal with this so why must we? Apart from being an ugly and untrue way to look at the beauty and goodness of having and being a part of a family, it also demonstrates a disdain for the feminine. Abigail Favale, author of “The Genesis of Gender” argues that an implicit message in these pro-abortion arguments is that “women must become like men to be free.” Nothing could be further from the truth, and no part of the U.S. Constitution should suggest that.
The underlying premise of the ERA is not a respect for women. Rather, it is a hatred of anything that makes women different from men. The bright side to all of this is that, procedurally, the ERA is on a path destined for failure. Yet, its supporters maintain delusional dreams of imminent victory. Congressional Republicans must be unyielding in their defense of the Constitution and procedure. Women deserve to be respected by our laws, not erased by them.
Arielle Del Turco is Assistant Director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council, and co-author of "Heroic Faith: Hope Amid Global Persecution."