The New ERA is Women's Equality Amendment

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Way back when, the Civil Rights Act of 1866 stated, "Citizens of every race and color ... [have] full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings…” Two years later, the 14th Amendment was passed, which secured those rights. What’s missing? You won’t see any language definitively affirming those same rights to 51 percent of the population. In fact, the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, is the only time you’ll even see women mentioned in the Constitution. The only time.

But it’s not for lack of trying. The Equal Right Amendment has been introduced to every session of Congress since 1923. It simply and beautifully states, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” Led by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), among others, the amendment now has a new name — The Women’s Equality Amendment — but the same basic statement.

As straightforward as that may seem, the amendment has its share of detractors. George Will, writing for the Washington Post, recently referred to it as a “Constitutional redundancy.” According to Will, it would add nothing to already existing constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process for all ''persons.”

Ironically, women’s suffragist, Susan B. Anthony, once made a similar argument — and like Will, she was totally wrong.

During the 1872 presidential election, two years after the 15th Amendment guaranteed African American men the right to vote, Anthony led a group of women in Rochester, N.Y. to the polls. Subsequently, she and her followers were arrested, indicted, prosecuted, convicted, and fined for the crime of unauthorized voting.

A year later, while Anthony was being prosecuted for her alleged "crime,” she gave an eloquent speech in which she explained why her attempt to vote should be treated not as a crime, but, rather, as the simple exercise of an existing constitutional right. Like Will, she argued that women didn't really need a constitutional amendment securing their right to vote since much general language that was already in the Constitution implicitly secured that right.

But it wasn’t until 1920, more than 40 years later, that women actually did earn the right to vote. Its passage is the ultimate affirmation that constitutional rights cannot be implied or assumed.

And although a lot of progress has been made, from the first female speaker of the House to the first woman with a serious chance at becoming the next president of the United States, we’re still lagging behind our male counterparts.

Case in point: we have only one woman sitting among eight others on the country’s highest court; just 16 percent of Congress is female; we are still earning just three quarters of what men make for doing the same work; we hold fewer than 15 percent of the board seats in major corporations; domestic violence statistics have been reaching all-time highs; and in every state but Montana, women still pay higher rates than similarly situated men for health, annuity, disability, and auto insurance.

Need more? A new study by Harvard and McGill University found that the United States lags far behind virtually all wealthy countries with regard to family-oriented workplace policies. Perhaps most notably, it found that the U.S. is one of only five countries out of 173 in the survey that does not guarantee some form of paid maternity leave; the others are Lesotho, Liberia, Swaziland and Papua New Guinea.

And yet, there are still those, like longtime anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly, who beat the drum against the “tired old feminists” who are still “whining” and “crying” about the lack of an Equal Rights Amendment. Writing for the conservative periodical Human Events, Schlafly warned that ERA’s goal is “not to benefit women, but to force us into a gender-neutral society in which we would all be required to treat men and women exactly the same no matter how reasonable it might be to respect the differences.”

In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Arguing for equal rights is not the same as arguing against inherent sex differences. In fact, genuine advocates for women’s rights—and I count myself as one—have been arguing for years, particularly in areas of employment, that laws should better reflect the fact that women have babies and men don’t.

Nevertheless, Schlafly’s parade of horribles trudges along. She cautions, among other things, that “the ERA would draft women into military combat, abolish the presumption that a husband should support his wife” and lead to the “sex-integrating” of prisons and the Boy Scouts.

According to Congressman Nadler, such arguments are "simply not borne out by history and the facts.” Nearly half of all states have equal rights amendments or similar laws, he says, and none has experienced the legal chaos that critics like Schlafly have forecasted. “This is little more than sensationalist rhetoric designed to make us fear this utterly reasonable step to end discrimination," says Nadler.

Whether Schlafly and her followers like it or not, women have become full-fledged participants in American society. And the framers of the Constitution would surely cringe at a political viewpoint more willing to soap box for far-fetched concerns about co-ed Boy Scouts than values as American as equality under the law.

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ERA Sources

1) 1866 Civil Rights Act

2) 19th Amendment — only time “women” mentioned

3) Women/51%

3.5)“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

4) Led by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), among others.

5) George Will, writing for the Washington Post, recently referred to it as a “Constitutional redundancy.”

6) 1872 presidential election, two years after the 15th Amendment guaranteed African American men the right to vote

7) Anthony led a group of women in Rochester, N.Y. to the polls. Subsequently, she and her followers were arrested, indicted, prosecuted, convicted, and fined for the crime of unauthorized voting.

8) A year later … implicitly secured that right

9) 19th Amendment in 1920

10) For the first time in our nation’s history, we have a woman speaker of the house … Supreme Court, one woman amongst eight others.

11) just 16 percent of Congress is female

12) We are still earning just three quarters of what men make for doing the same work

13) We hold fewer than 15 percent of the board seats in major corporations.

14) Domestic violence statistics have been reaching all-time highs

15) In every state but Montana, women still pay higher rates than similarly situated men for health, annuity, disability, and auto insurance.

16) Harvard and McGill University found ... New Guinea

17) Longtime anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly

18) “whining” and “crying” about the lack of an Equal Rights Amendment. Writing for the conservative periodical Human Events

19) Schlafly warned that ERA’s goal is “not to benefit women, but to force us into a gender-neutral society in which we would all be required to treat men and women exactly the same no matter how reasonable it might be to respect the differences.”

20) She cautions, among other things, that “the ERA would draft women into military combat, abolish the presumption that a husband should support his wife” and lead to the “sex-integrating” of prisons and the Boy Scouts.

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Lis Wiehl joined FOX News Channel as a legal analyst in October 2001. She is currently a professor of law at the New York Law School. Wiehl received her undergraduate degree from Barnard College in 1983 and received her Master of Arts in Literature from the University of Queensland in 1985. In addition, she earned her Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School in 1987. Lis is also the author of The 51% Minority — How Women Still Are Not Equal and What You Can Do About It. (Watch the Video) To read the rest of Lis's bio, click here.