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deja vu: Women's Equality Measure Faces Long Odds

 
 
Reply Mon 9 Apr, 2007 09:32 am
Women's Equality Measure Faces Long Odds
By Jim Abrams
The Associated Press
Tuesday 03 April 2007

Washington - Democrats face long odds in their effort to revive an Equal Rights Amendment that failed three decades ago, even if unisex bathrooms are no longer much of a fear factor.

Now dubbed the Women's Equality Amendment, the measure has much less support now than when it sailed through Congress in 1972. It died years later when only 35 states - three short of those needed - endorsed it.

What supporters hope will become the 28th Amendment to the Constitution states in its key line that "equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex."

With Democrats controlling Congress for the first time in a dozen years, "prospects are better now than they have been in a very very long time," Terry O'Neill, executive director of the National Council of Women's Organizations, said after the constitutional amendment was introduced in the Senate and House last week.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution, said he plans hearings on the modern-day ERA. Sponsors said their goal is to get House and Senate votes on it before 2009.

"I would love for the American people to see who votes against women's equality," said O'Neill.

In 1971 and 1972 the amendment swept through Congress, with votes of 354-24 in the House and 84-8 in the Senate. Over the next five years 35 states ratified the measure, but even with extension of the seven-year deadline for action to 10 years, no other states concurred. The first ERA was introduced in Congress in 1923, three years after women got the vote. The last ERA-related vote was in 1983.

The new version has less than 200 original co-sponsors in the 435-member House, and one of them, Rep. Ralph Hall, R-Texas, dropped off the day after it was introduced, leaving only eight GOP signatures on it. In he Senate, the measure has only 21 sponsors, none of them a Republican. Constitutional amendments must be approved by two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate and then be ratified by three-fourths of state legislature.

O'Neill says those numbers reflect that Republicans are "farther to the right than they were in the 1970s."

Conservative groups have been quick to mobilize their opposition, underlining the abortion and same-sex marriage issues that resonate with Republican lawmakers.

"We believe the ERA is dead," said Jessica Echard, executive director of Eagle Forum, the conservative grass-roots group founded in 1972 by Phyllis Schlafly as she led the fight against the original ERA. "We'll see if Congress really wants to get back into this."

Among the main opposing arguments in that Vietnam War era, besides the images of men and women having to share bathrooms, was that the ERA would subject women to the military draft.

The draft issue "is still very much alive" in today's wartime America, Echard said, as are concerns that an ERA would be used to codify abortion and same-sex marriage rights.

A proliferation of female doctors, lawyers and stockbrokers and the fact that women now receive nearly 60 percent of college degrees show that women don't need an ERA to succeed, she added.

Not so, says Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., who has sponsored ERA proposals in six different sessions of Congress. She noted that women still get only 77 cents for every dollar that men are paid, that only 3 percent of federal contracts go to women-owned firms, and that the poverty rate of older women in nearly twice that of older men.

Without a "clear and stricter judicial standard on sex discrimination," women are in danger of losing ground, she said, citing challenges to Title IX, the federal law that opened academic and sports opportunities for women, and compensation for the families of 9/11-victims.

It's an equal rights issue and has nothing to do with abortion, Maloney said.

Abortion opponents don't see it that way. Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, sent letters to lawmakers asserting that abortion rights groups are using state ERAs to promote tax-funded abortion on demand.

He pointed to a 1998 decision by New Mexico's supreme court that looked to the state's ERA in ruling that abortion shouldn't be treated differently from medically necessary procedures sought by men.

Johnson said his group would urge rejection of the amendment unless it contains "abortion-neutral" language stating that nothing in the article "shall be construed to grant, secure, or deny any right relating to abortion or the funding thereof."

Hall, after his office got a call from the Right to Life Committee, went to the House floor to withdraw his name as a cosponsor, saying that "after further reflection" he was concerned it "could potentially compromise my longtime stance on pro-life issues." He said he hoped clarifying language on abortion could be added.
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The bills are H.J. Res 40 and S.J. Res 10.
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Mon 9 Apr, 2007 11:25 am
Re: deja vu: Women's Equality Measure Faces Long Odds
BumbleBeeBoogie wrote:
A proliferation of female doctors, lawyers and stockbrokers and the fact that women now receive nearly 60 percent of college degrees show that women don't need an ERA to succeed, she added.

Not so, says Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., who has sponsored ERA proposals in six different sessions of Congress. She noted that women still get only 77 cents for every dollar that men are paid, that only 3 percent of federal contracts go to women-owned firms, and that the poverty rate of older women in nearly twice that of older men.

Without a "clear and stricter judicial standard on sex discrimination," women are in danger of losing ground, she said, citing challenges to Title IX, the federal law that opened academic and sports opportunities for women, and compensation for the families of 9/11-victims.

This encapsulates why I had strong misgivings about the ERA back in the 1980s and continue to have those misgivings today. Right now, "pay equity" is just a poorly thought-out theory. Under the ERA, however, it could be the law, and I think that would be disastrous.

Frankly, we don't really know what sort of mischief might be wrought under the guise of "equal rights for the sexes." Steve Chapman, columnist for the Chicago Tribune (with whom I seldom agree), put it very well in his column yesterday:

Is the ERA Making a Comeback?[/size] (reg. req'd)
by Steve Chapman

When Congress approved the Equal Rights Amendment in 1972, supporters said it would bring about huge changes in attitudes and practices, and they were right. Women now mostly work outside the home, they run giant corporations, they serve in the military in combat zones, they occupy high offices in all three branches of government, and one may be the next president. The amazing thing is that the amendment precipitated all these advances without ever being ratified.

Today, though, proponents are mounting a new campaign to change the Constitution. The measure, now called the Women's Equality Amendment, consists of a simple mandate: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex." It's the same as the original ERA, which died in 1982 after falling three states short of the 38 needed.

In 1972, equal rights for women was a new and controversial concept. By now, it has permeated deep into the national consciousness. The idea that the government should disadvantage people merely because of their gender has few adherents and even fewer public advocates. American society has gone a long way toward putting the sexes on a legally equal footing.

One supporter of the revived amendment is Democratic state Rep. Lindsley Smith of Arkansas, who told The Washington Post, "The question I get most frequently is, 'Lindsley, I thought this already was in the Constitution.' " What she overlooks is that, for all intents and purposes, it is.

In the last three decades, the U.S. Supreme Court has handed down a string of decisions overturning laws that treat people differently on the basis of sex. It required the all-male Virginia Military Institute to admit females, ordered the Air Force to provide the same dependent benefits to spouses of women as it provides to spouses of men, and struck down an Oklahoma law setting a different drinking age for men and women.

These decisions (and others) grew out of the same principle: that everyone is entitled to equal treatment under the 14th Amendment. The court said in 1996 -- in an opinion written by Ruth Bader Ginsburg -- "Parties who seek to defend gender-based government action must demonstrate an exceedingly persuasive justification for that action. Neither federal nor state government acts compatibly with equal protection when a law or official policy denies to women, simply because they are women, full citizenship stature."

As Northwestern University law professor Andrew Koppelman puts it, Phyllis Schlafly and other opponents won the battle but lost the war: "The ERA was defeated, but its rule against sex discrimination was incorporated into constitutional law anyway, by judicial interpretation of the 14th Amendment."

There are also numerous federal and state statutes prohibiting discrimination -- such as in hiring and pay -- against women. If those haven't stamped it out, an amendment isn't likely to help. In fact, says Koppelman, "it's hard to imagine it making any difference at all."

Supporters who say it would make a difference, though, find themselves emphasizing that it would not make too much of a difference. Contrary to the warnings of some critics, we are told, it would not force states to pay for abortions, legalize same-sex marriage or subject women to a military draft.

Oh? The organization 4ERA admits that in some states whose constitutions have equal-rights amendments, the courts have interpreted them to require publicly funded abortions. And state-level ERAs were a big reason that the supreme courts in Hawaii and Massachusetts said same-sex marriage must be allowed (though the Hawaii decision was reversed by constitutional amendment).

As for the draft, the group says, "Congress already has the power to draft women into the armed services." Well, yes. But at present, Congress has no obligation to do so if it chooses to impose conscription. With this language in the Constitution, it might.

In fact, no one knows for sure what the effect of the Women's Equality Amendment would be. When you approve a constitutional amendment setting the minimum voting age at 18, you can be confident that it will not turn out to be 19 or 17. But when you issue a broad mandate, you buy a surprise package whose contents will become known only after it is too late.

The universally accepted goals of the amendment have already been achieved, so the only important changes it might bring are those that Americans have decided we don't want. Which is why its time may have come -- and gone.
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Baldimo
 
  1  
Reply Mon 9 Apr, 2007 11:54 am
Please tell me what men can do that women can't. Be drafted? Women already hold more power in many places where men don't have chance. Look at the family courts? If any thing we should almost be pushing for male rights because that is where we have a slip in society. While women have the right to have an abortion men have no say in what happens that child that is theirs. If they don't want the mother to have an abortion because they want the child they are screwed but if they don't want the child and the mother does, they are still screwed because the courts will make them pay for the child till it's 18.

Your right, there is an equality in this country but it isn't against women and it isn't against minorities.
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