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The End of the Equal Rights Amendment

As the deadline to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment lapsed in June 1982, the amendment's foes celebrated, while its proponents looked to the future.

Building a Countermovement

In February 1972, Schlafly published her first newsletter against the ERA, warning readers that it held the potential for great harm to women.[7] Among the charges against it were that it would subject women to the military draft and remove child support rights. Later, Schlafly also asserted that the ERA would create a constitutional guarantee for abortion and legalize gay marriage (which helped fuel the anti-gay moral and legal panic of the late-1970s).[8] Such measures, Schlafly claimed, were hidden underneath the ostensibly straightforward text of the amendment itself, at the core of which was the following: “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 anti-ERA campaign was motivated by traditionalist, Christian, anticommunist, and conservative beliefs that stemmed from the post-war American experience and the tradition of turn-of-the-century anti-feminism and anti-radicalism. According to scholar Kirsten Delegard, within this tradition, women believed they were uniquely called upon to fight communism, female progressives, and centralized government.[9] Paradoxically, notes scholar Erin M. Kempker, this mission allowed conservative women to escape the norm of female domesticity and engage in political organizing “outside the home in order to defend the home.”[10]

As the second-wave feminist movement surged into the mainstream of American politics in the mid-1960s, it tied into many anticommunist fears associated with “sexual anxieties, particularly homosexuality, with political threats and domestic subversion,” writes Kempker.[11] The perceived threat to the traditional family and American society jolted a large contingent of conservative stay-at-home wives and mothers into action—women whom Schlafly would later rally for her cause. By playing up the image of the traditional housemaker, Schlafly could force a juxtaposition with the progressive vision offered by the women’s liberation movement, which she called “destructive of family living.”[12]

To fight back against the women’s movement and the push for the ERA, Schlafly established the anti-ERA organization “STOP ERA” (an acronym for “Stop Taking Our Privileges”) in September 1972.[13] Later, in 1975, she established another organization named Eagle Forum, which she called “the alternative to women’s lib.”[14]

Schlafly Comes to Washington

Throughout her anti-ERA campaign, Schlafly made frequent visits to Washington to state her case.

On one occasion, while giving a speech at the National Town Meeting at the Kennedy Center, Schlafly stated that to support the ERA is “like trying to kill a fly with a sledge hammer. You don’t kill the fly but you end up breaking all the furniture. …We cannot reduce women to equality. Equality is a step down for most women.” The crowd hissed at her in response.[15]