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National NOW Times >> Spring 2005 >> Article

NOW Cheers Reintroduction of Equal Rights Amendment into Congress

The National Organization for Women welcomed the reintroduction of the Equal Rights Amendment at a Capitol Hill press conference with hopes it will renew the national dialogue on constitutional equality for women.

"Properly interpreted, the Equal Rights Amendment would be a permanent guarantee of basic human rights for women," said NOW President Kim Gandy. "With such an amendment to the Constitution, our fundamental rights and liberties would no longer be subject to the ever-changing political cycle."

Gandy and former NOW President Ellie Smeal commended the bill's chief sponsor, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), for her dedication to achieving constitutional equality. A number of women members of Congress stood in solidarity with the leaders of many national women's organizations—including Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) and Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Calif.).

Women were not included in the Constitution at the founding of our country. For the entire history of the United States, women have been purposely disadvantaged by the lack of a Constitutional guarantee of equality.

Evidence of this disadvantage can be chronicled over decades of U.S. history—discriminatory patterns in employment, education, insurance, health care, Social Security, pensions, military service and the justice system, to name just a few.

Even though the 14th Amendment to the Constitution is frequently cited as a source of protection for women, that amendment was never intended as a prohibition against sex discrimination and does not provide equal protection for women in fact it was ratified at a time when women did not even have the right to vote.

Painful experience within our judicial system—particularly over the last three decades—provides ample proof that only a clear constitutional declaration of equal protection and a standard of strict scrutiny will achieve the goal of truly equal protection for women and men. Not only must an equality amendment provide protection against sex discrimination in the economic realm, but it must also be more robust. It must prohibit discrimination based on pregnancy or sexual orientation, and must protect the millions of women whose reproductive rights are being increasingly narrowed and denied.

A new Equal Rights Amendment must be interpreted to guarantee a woman's right to privacy and bodily integrity, as well as protection from discrimination based on pregnancy or sexual orientation. Women need a constitutional equality amendment to counter the already full-blown efforts to weaken civil rights and diminish women's rights.

As we look to federal courts where conservative ideologues now dominate judicial thought and action, progressive leaders must stimulate debate among our elected representatives, women's rights advocates and the public-at-large on the need for equal protection under the law.

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