October 1975

Thoughtful view given to ERA
by Suzanne

   "Equality of Rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."
   This is the Equal Rights Amendment. By itself it appears to be relatively harmless; something that the Constitution has already guaranteed to every person in theory. However, because of numerous charges of discrimination against women, this bill has caused nationwide controversy for the past five years.
   It is not the bill itself that is so controversial, as its interpretation that has caused such widespread debate. Will women be drafted? Will both men and women lose their right to privacy based on sex? These and other questions predominate in the debate.
   Introduced into Congress in 1928, ERA has supporters on both sides of the fence. Many politicians, acutely aware of their female constituents, favor the bill. The predominant anti-ERA backers continue to be church groups, mainly Mormons and fundamentalist sects, and STOP ERA, a national organization chaired by Phyllis Schlafly.
   Mrs. Schlafly is a national force in the fight against ERA. She believes that men are clearly superior to women and that women are fools to even doubt this natural law. "After all," argues Mrs. Schlafly, "a man invented that telephone that all you women spend hours talking on." According to Mrs. Schlafly, this illustrated the mental superiority of men.
   ERA's most recent history started in 1972. After years of debate, Congress passed the amendment in 1972 and sent it to the state legislatures. Thirty-eight states must ratify the bill before the March 1979 deadline or it will be considered "dead." Thirty-four states have already ratified the amendment.
   In Illinois, in May 1974, ERA edged within four votes of approval only to be defeated because of the lack of a 3/5 majority. One of the primary reasons for this setback was Phyllis Schlafly, an Illinois resident. Mrs. Schlafly and her STOP ERA group lobbied extensively and successively to defeat the amendment in the Illinois Senate.
   Many men fail to realize that ERA will benefit them also. For example: it is easier for women to become exempt from jury duty than it is for men. In four states overtime compensation pay applies only to women. And in most states, women find it easier to get off work through childbirth and occupational limitations than men. All this would change under ERA, giving men and women equal standing in legal and business practices all the way around.
   The draft is the most publicized issue in the ERA controversy. Will women be drafted on an equal basis with men? With an all volunteer army, this appears to be a dead issue. Under ERA, Congress would be able to draft women (incidentally, it already can) but the chances are slim of serving in combat. In 1971 only 5 percent of eligible males were actually inducted into the services. Less than 1 percent were ever assigned to combat units, and only a fraction of these went to the front lines. Women won't be snatched away from their children to be drafted. Men have always been exempted for a variety of reasons, including family responsibilities--and so will women.
   The issue of ERA seems to boil down to the idea of having the right to choose. In the words of Betty Ford, "I believe that every woman has a place in this world and I believe that whether you are a housewife, a mother, or whether you want to go into business...this is your choice, and every woman should have her choice. In this choice they should be considered equal, and that's what it's all about."