Thursday, February 21, 2019
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Movement Revives Campaign to Ratify Equal Rights Amendment

Interview with Bettina Hager, Washington director and chief operating officer of the ERA Coalition, conducted by Scott Harris

The proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads as follows, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” First proposed in 1921, the ERA didn’t gain traction until the amendment was approved by the House in 1971 and the Senate in 1972. But in subsequent years, and with an extension of the original time limit from 1979 to 1982, only 35 of the required 38 states ratified the amendment. Conservative opponents succeeded in eroding support for the ERA by arguing that with its ratification, women would be drafted into the military and lose protections in divorce cases and child custody rulings.
But, over the last few years, the movement to ratify the ERA has gained new momentum. In 2017, Nevada’s state legislature ratified the ERA, followed by the Illinois legislature in 2018. Only one state short of the mandated 38, Virginia’s Senate approved, while a subcommittee of the state’s House of Delegates blocked the measure. Advocates are now focused on gaining passage in North Carolina and Arizona.
Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Bettina Hager, Washington director and chief operating officer of the ERA Coalition. Here, she talks about the history of the Equal Rights Amendment and the current national campaign to ratify the ERA.

BETTINA HAGER: Every single year, the Equal Rights Amendment has been introduced in Congress since 1982. So, there’s always been people who’ve continued to work on this issue because it’s so important to our country and it’s also personally important to many advocates. But there was no kind of central base to help organize in a way that could effectively be used to create a national movement. And four-and-a-half years ago or so, I was already working on this issue as the co-chair of the ERA Task Force, the National Council of Women organization. And, basically, Congresswoman (Carolyn) Maloney, who’s been a longtime congressional advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment, approached Jessica Neuwirth, who is the co-founder of the ERA Coalition and said, “You know, we really need a national constituency if we’re going to ever get this ratified into the U.S. Constitution.”

And as an amendment to the Constitution, there needs to be kind of a full-time focus on passing an amendment because it takes two-thirds of the House and the Senate to pass it through Congress and then three-quarters of the states to ratify it. And so, Jessica and two of our other co-founders really kind of recognized this need to have a central base, sort of bringing all of the advocates who are either kind of in the states and have continued the fight since 1982 and kind of do the legwork and you know, really organize a national movement and create the ability to bring it to the national stage.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Bettina, I wanted to ask you about public opinion. Have we seen any recent polls that would indicate the acceptance of the public today in 2019 of your effort to push for the adoption of the ERA Amendment?

BETTINA HAGER: Absolutely. We had a poll that we commissioned in 2015, released in 2016 where the poll showed that there was about 94 percent of the respondents (that) believe that the U.S. Constitution should be amended to require equal rights for men and women. So our polling company, when we talked to them and they showed us these results, said you couldn’t even get that level of support for everyone agreeing that we should all drink water. You know, they said they’ve never seen anything that high. It’s really kind of an unprecedented poll. They were just astounded. Really. There’s nothing that has that high of an approval rating. The issue though is that there is what I like to call an information gap. That same pool showed that 80 percent of the respondents mistakenly believed that equal rights on the basis of sex already exist in our Constitution.

And one of the things I kind of always point out is that, you know, if you believe you have something, you’re not going to work to get it because you don’t know that you need to. So one of the main things that we as a coalition and one of the reasons it’s so important to create this national constituency was that we can reach more people. We have a constituency that we can give this information to that we can you know, try to let them know that we still need to be fighting for this. Because – until we have higher numbers of people knowing that we do not currently have an Equal Rights Amendment in the Constitution, it will be very difficult to change the tide.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Bettina, just a final question here. In your mind, what is the urgency to get the ERA passed as soon as possible? Given that we have Donald Trump as president who’s certainly shown his colors as a longtime misogynist, as has important sectors of the Republican party. We also have the #MeToo movement at the moment and a conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court with a very controversial confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh and all the accusations and allegations leveled at him in his past. Maybe you could explain the urgency of this moment in terms of the ERA and it’s a necessity to pass quickly.

BETTINA HAGER: I think every single reason that you just listed is the reason that there’s such a high urgency right now. I think that there’s an urgency, but socially and legally to have the Equal Rights Amendment passed and ratified in our U.S. Constitution, and they go hand in hand.

One of the things that has been really highlighted by this new administration is the fact that legislation can be easily rolled back with a majority vote of the House and the Senate. And, that all of the hard-won rights that our foremothers have put into place to allow women of my generation to really have a lot of opportunity to succeed in this society can be rolled back. A constitutional amendment cannot be rolled back. Once a constitutional amendment is ratified, it’s there forever.
Women shouldn’t be afraid that an election will determine their rights. They should be completely confident that they’ll always be there.
For more information about the ERA Coalition, visit ERAcoalition.org.

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