The Equal Rights Amendment


Cordelia Kuiper Rauch, Assistant Editor-In-Chief

In the United States Constitution, the word “women” is never used. This omission means that, even in 2021, women are still not guaranteed equal rights to men. 

For over 100 years, women have sought to change their unrecognized status by amending the Constitution. In 1923, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was introduced to Congress. It guarantees women complete and equal rights, stating, “… equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” The ERA was voted down in 1923 and continued to be denied up until the modern women’s rights movement when in 1972 it passed in Congress. To finalize the amendment, it needed to then be ratified by 38 state legislatures, and Congress set an arbitrary deadline of 7 years for this step to occur. However, it fell short by three states and has languished ever since.  

Now, however, the possibility of at last amending the Constitution is close at hand. On March 17th, in a 222-204 vote, the House of Representatives passed legislation that would allow the ERA to reach 38 states by counting the three states that voted for it after the deadline (the last being Virginia, which ratified it in 2020). All that remains is for the Senate to remove the 7-year deadline, but it is unclear if or when they will do so. 

The ERA has the potential to guarantee equal pay, prevent pregnancy discrimination, and provide increased protections for women, including resources to combat sexual harassment and domestic violence. 

While securing these rights would not be immediate, the ERA from the outset would set an important principle. As Ruth Bater Ginsburg stated in a 2017 interview, “I would like to be able to take out my pocket constitution and say that the equal citizenship stature of men and women is a fundamental tenant of our society.” The ERA would allow the Supreme Court of the United States to rule on inequality on the basis of sex and ensure future legislation is equal. It would additionally empower Congress to pass laws that prevent sex discrimination, which is currently restricted. For example, the Supreme Court in 2000 struck down a clause in the Violence Against Women Act that would have given women the ability to sue their attackers, but under the ERA this clause would have been upheld. 

While almost 80% of Americans in 2020 supported the its ratification, the majority of Republican officials opposed the ERA, despite the party backing it in the 1970s. A likely reason for this shift is that the Republican Party now for the most part opposes abortion, and it is possible that the ERA would override state-level abortion restrictions. Indeed, in New Mexico where the ERA was adopted into the state Constitution, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that restricting abortion violated the ERA.

Will 2021 finally be the year that the United States recognizes that all men – and women – are created equal? The world must keep an eye on the Senate to find out.