Lawmakers on Tuesday announced plans to achieve a goal a century in the making: Ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, which would guarantee equal rights for all American citizens regardless of sex.
The amendment, first introduced in 1923 by activists Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman, was approved by Congress in the 1970s, but needed to be ratified by 38 states in order to fulfill the reqiurement set under Article V of the U.S. Constitution.
Congress at the time set a deadline of 1979 for ratification, and in 1978 extended the deadline to 1982 under then-President Jimmy Carter. The ERA received the support of 35 states by 1977, though several state legislatures voted to revoke their ratification before the deadline.
Momentum stalled after conservative women, led by activist Phyllis Schlafly, led a campaign against the amendment, but efforts to revive the ERA have reignited in recent years. Since 2018, Nevada, Illinois and Virginia have voted to ratify the amendment.
A group of lawmakers on Tuesday held a press conference to introduce a resolution which would remove the time limit for ratification, allowing the ERA to become an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
“It’s long past time the Constitution affirm our equality in the eyes of the law,” Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley said. “The ramifications run deep as women face daily sexism, pregnancy discrimination, pay inequities, sexual violence and legislative attacks on our bodily autonomy."
“Congress placed an arbitrary deadline on the ratification process, which is prevented from being formally enshrined in the Constitution," Pressley said. "Our resolution would remove that arbitrary deadline and move this constitutional amendment forward."
For Virginia Rep. Abigail Spanberger, the ERA is a personal matter: Her mother was a staunch advocate for the ERA.
“For years, long before I ever got into politics, the best advocate I know, my mother, Eileen Davis, went to the General Assembly in the Commonwealth of Virginia, every single year, lugging her suitcase full of materials, like a pharma rep, to tell people about" the ERA, Spanberger said at a press conference on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.
The new push for its adoption comes in the aftermath of the Supreme Court ending the constitutional right to an abortion last year.
“This is about women's rights,” Rep. Sylvia Garcia, R-Texas., said Tuesday. "It's about gender equality. It's about making sure that there is truly justice for all.”
Another lawmaker who emphasized a "special connection" to the ERA was Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono, who hailed the fact that her state was the first to ratify the amendment on March 22, 1972.
"This long-fought battle has a special connection to my home state of Hawaii — Hawaii was the first state to ratify the ERA,” Sen. Hirono said. “Our next generation of all women, including transgender women and gender non-conforming individuals, deserve better. We cannot wait any longer to formalize the ERA.”
“As a Black woman who has experienced domestic violence, sexual harassment in the workplace, unequal pay and blatant gender discrimination, I’m fighting for the Equal Rights Amendment because I know the impact constitutional equality will have on me and millions of women and queer people across this country,” Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., said Tuesday. "To achieve gender justice in our country, we must enshrine gender equality into our legal bedrock: the U.S. Constitution."
“It is 2023 and there is absolutely no reason that an arbitrary deadline should prevent women from having equal rights under the Constitution," said freshman Rep. Sydney Kamlager-Dove, D-Calif. "There should never be a time limit on equality. Women continue to face discrimination in health care, in the workforce, and in every-day life."
"Enough states have finally ratified the Equal Rights Amendment, it is beyond time that the ERA becomes an official part of our Constitution and women are given full protection under the law of the land," Kamlager-Dove added.
The effort is a bipartisan one: Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska is one of the bill's co-sponsors.
"Alaska recognizes that women’s equality is fundamental, having both ratified the ERA and amended the State Constitution to prohibit discrimination in 1972, the year the ERA originally passed Congress," Murkowski said. "It’s time for the entire the nation to follow suit."
"Men and women should be treated equally under the law," she added. "It’s as simple as that."
The first piece of legislation that Murkowski introduced in the last Congress was a resolution to affirm the ERA, alongside Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin.
"There should be no time limit on equality. Ratification of the 28th Amendment is complete," Cardin said Tuesday. "Most Americans already think it is a part of the Constitution. Congress needs to finish its job."
Lawmakers said Tuesday that they were hopeful the bill will garner further Republican support.
Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, said Tuesday that he is getting things rolling in the upper chamber.
“We're gonna start in the Senate Judiciary Committee with a hearing so the people of America know what's at stake here and what we're really fighting for," Durbin said. "And then we're gonna bring it to the floor and we're gonna get a vote."