Founding Feminists is the FMF’s daily herstory column.
Just 26 days after becoming First Lady, Betty Ford has held her first press conference. During the 30-minute session with 142 reporters and photographers in the State Dining Room of the White House, she said that she wants to help the Equal Rights Amendment campaign, and favors abortion rights.
Today’s full-fledged news conference was an unprecedented move by a First Lady. Eleanor Roosevelt held 348 press conferences during her White House years, but they were far more informal, and open to women only, as a way of helping them get ahead in a male-dominated profession.
Though she doesn’t intend to get involved in partisan political issues, Ford does want to encourage women to play an active role in politics. There is, of course, one exception to her non-partisan role, and she left no doubt that she’ll be campaigning for President Ford’s election to a full, four-year term in 1976.
She said that in regard to the campaign for the E.R.A., a measure endorsed by Republicans since 1940 and Democrats since 1944 : “I would be happy to take part in it.” She intends to lobby for the amendment in the 17 states that have not yet ratified to help get the five more needed. Though President Ford once joked about the issue with her, and in 1971 backed off his initial strong support of it a year earlier, due to pressure from his constituents, the First Lady assured the press that the President was now an E.R.A. advocate. He re-endorsed the E.R.A. on August 22nd during a press conference.
When asked whether her views on abortion were closer to those of Vice-Presidential nominee Nelson Rockefeller, a strong advocate of abortion rights when Governor of New York, or those of Senator James Buckley (R-NY), who wants “Roe vs. Wade” overturned, and abortion re-criminalized, she said that her views were “definitely closer” to those of Rockefeller, and that she favors liberalized abortion laws.
On other issues, she said the vacation White House would be in Vail, Colorado, that she was being kept quite busy with her new duties, and that the children have adjusted well to life in the White House.
The Equal Rights Amendment was passed by Congress and sent to the States for ratification on March 22, 1972, and has until March 22, 1979 to gain the 38 state approvals needed for inclusion in the Constitution. Polls show consistent public support for the measure, and so far 33 states have ratified. Three ratifications have taken place this year : Maine, Montana and Ohio.
The Equal Rights Amendment reads :
“Section 1 : Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
“Section 2 : The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
“Section 3 : This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.”
Though the pace of ratifications has slowed (22 in 1972, 8 in 1973, 3 so far this year) that’s to be expected, as the more progressive states would have ratified quickly, with the more conservative ones doing so more slowly – and after a battle. But with only five more states needed to ratify, four and a half years to get them to do so, and the support of the First Family, things are definitely looking up for the Equal Rights Amendment as well as for feminist progress in general !