HERE’S WHY WE NEED THE ERA

by: Dr. E. Faye Williams President of the National Congress of Black Women
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Dr E Faye Williams1
Dr. E. Faye Williams

TriceEdney A few days ago, we saw our U.S. Supreme Court in action.  Even if you only saw snippets of Whole Woman’s Health v Hellerstedt, a Texas case that threatens to take away a woman’s right to choose what to do with her body, you’ll understand why we need the Equal Rights Amendment in our Constitution.

We heard two men arguing against women’s rights and three brilliant women Justices proving why it’s important for women to speak for ourselves when laws about us are made.  In those arguments, it was great having female Supreme Court Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, who were appointed by President Barack Obama, and the inimitable Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg representing our interests. Without these women, we would’ve been railroaded! Add the female lawyer there working for us, and we were closer than ever to justice for women with these women standing up for us against Texas’ solicitor general for passing regulations with no relationship to a woman’s health.

Just as I believe it’s important for all women to tell their story, it’s really important for women of all races and backgrounds to speak for themselves. We can thank President Obama for getting us closer to where some of us can tell our own stories, while I hold onto hope that we’ll have a Black woman on the Supreme Court soon!

Seeing the women Justices in action on a case about women brings me to the ERA and why we desperately need it.  A recent survey shows most people don’t know women’s rights are not protected in our Constitution.  They think we’re there, but surely you’ve heard the phrase “All men are created equal,” and even more, you may have heard the late Justice Antonin Scalia argue that women are not promised protection against discrimination in our Constitution!

Mr. Scalia’s exact words were: “You do not need the Constitution to reflect the wishes of the current society.  Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex.  The only issue is whether it prohibits it.  It doesn’t. Nobody ever thought that that’s what it meant.  Nobody ever voted for that.  If the current society wants to outlaw discrimination by sex, hey we have things called legislatures, and they enact things called laws.”

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He stated that women aren’t protected on the basis of sex under the Equal Protection Clause! That was shocking to many of us who believed equal protection allows all Americans to enjoy basic civil and human rights.

The day didn’t end without a few more women coming forward on the ERA. Rep. Bonnie Watson-Coleman (NJ) led an amazing Special Order Hour in the Congress on passage of ERA. I received e-mails from women all over the country rejoicing that ERA is finally receiving attention after all the years of near silence on the issue.

The National Congress of Black Women is a lead organization on this issue. We were represented at the dinner held by actress Patricia Arquette in California a few days ago. Kamala Lopez just did a great informative movie called Equal Means Equal.  If you don’t know many of the challenges presented to women by not being written into the Constitution, you need to see the movie. We, Black and Latina women, have double challenges of color and sex, so we must be actively and visibly involved in getting ERA passed.

Begin by asking elected officials at all levels for their position on ERA. If they’re not giving the correct answer, remember their answers on every Election Day!  Brothers, please join your mothers, daughters, sisters and spouses on this issue. When we’re all enjoying equal pay and other rights, we can all enjoy a better quality of life.

Dr. E. Faye Williams can be reached at 202/678-6788, or at nationalcongressbw.org

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