In response to American women’s human rights realities, Congress has proposed several legislative measures that echo the sentiment of women’s rights advocates. Both the House and Senate have proposed amending the language of Constitution to include equal rights not only for “men” but also “women” (H.J. RES. 31 and S.J. RES. 31). This is known as the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).
Written in 1923 by Alice Paul, a suffragist leader, the ERA simply states:
Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.
Congress has also moved to adopt H. RES. 20, which would ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). CEDAW has been called the central human rights instrument for the realization of equality between men and women. To date 186 states are party to the convention—but not the United States.
In countries that have become a part of the convention, women have partnered with their governments to shape policies that create greater safety and opportunities for women and their families in areas such as educational opportunities, violence against women and girls, marriage and family relations impacting inheritance rights, and political participation.
As of yet, legislative measures associated with CEDAW have not come to the Senate floor for a full vote. If the Senate chooses to act boldly and answer the call of H.RES.20, the legislative body would be sending a strong message to the world about the United States’ stance on women’s rights.
Equal Rights Amendment Re-introduced Today
This afternoon Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) re-introduced the Equal Rights Amendment. The ERA currently has 160 co-sponsors in the House, including Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-WI), Chair of the Congressional Women's Caucus.
Feminist Majority President Eleanor Smeal spoke at a press conference today announcing the bill's re-introduction, stating, "Women and men deserve and need full equal rights. Without constitutional equality, too many women, and thereby too many families, are cheated. Americans overwhelmingly support constitutional equality. It is time- in fact, it's long overdue- for us to move forward. That's why the Feminist Majority and other women's organizations are this year going to score co-sponsorship of the ERA as a yes vote for constitutional equality for women; failure to co-sponsor will be on record as a vote against women's constitutional equality. It is simple as that-do you value women as full equal citizens under the law or not?" The National Organization for Women will also score whether or not a Member of Congress supports the ERA.
In response to the US Supreme Court's ruling in favor of Wal-Mart in the sex discrimination case, Representative Carolyn Maloney underscored the importance of passing the ERA: "The Wal-Mart case reviewed by the Supreme Court this week is a classic example of how far attitudes must still come. The facts of the case support the view that over a million women were systematically denied equal pay by the nation's largest employer."
The passage of the ERA is even more important today following Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's comment this year that the U.S. Constitution does not protect women from sex discrimination. In an interview with the California Lawyer, Scalia stated that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees equal justice under the law for all persons, does not prohibit sex discrimination under the laws of the United States or its states.
It's time to specify in the Constitution that women have equal rights in all aspects of life: including but not limited to employment, sovereignty over one's body, as a citizen, a consumer, business owner, caretaker, and creator of free speech.
S. J. Res. 21 is the so-called "Equal Rights Amendment" (ERA). This proposal, if approved by two-thirds of each house of Congress and by three-quarters of the state legislatures, would add the following words to the U.S. Constitution: "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 Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this Article." Pro-abortion groups such as NARAL, the ACLU, and Planned Parenthood have filed successful lawsuits under very similar ERAs contained in some state constitutions. For example, on November 25, 1998, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled 5-0 that the state ERA invalidated a state policy against using public funds to pay for abortions. Therefore, NRLC is opposed to the ERA unless and until an "abortion-neutralization amendment" is added. This revision, originally proposed in 1983 by Congressman F. James Sensenbrenner in 1983 -- says: "Nothing in this Article [the ERA] shall be construed to grant, secure, or deny any right relating to abortion or the funding thereof." Leading pro-ERA organizations are strongly opposed to the addition of an abortion-neutralization clause to the ERA.