The ERA Discharge Petition: Moving Forward

In January of 2023, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) introduced H.J.Res.25 in the House to remove the arbitrary deadline for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. The resolution has 209 co-sponsors. At the same time, Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) introduced an identical resolution in the Senate, S.J.Res.4, with 53 co-sponsors. 

In order to force H.J.Res.25 to a vote, Rep. Pressley launched a discharge petition for the bill. Once a majority of the House, 218 members, have signed the discharge petition, “it must immediately be brought before the full chamber for a vote,” bypassing the Republican Speaker of the House. The discharge petition currently has 206 signers. Reps. Ed Case (HI-01) and Josh Gottheimer (NJ-05) are the most recent signers, adding their names on February 15th, 2024. Only 12 more members need to sign on to bring it to a vote.  

In 2023, the Feminist Majority Foundation and Ms. Magazine commissioned Lake Research Partners to conduct a survey to determine the influence of abortion rights and the Equal Rights Amendment in turning out the vote. The polling shows that the ERA will be one of driving forces in the 2024 election. Abortion and the ERA are both strong issues that increase voter turnout separately, but are even more powerful when combined. Messaging that includes both abortion access and the ERA is incredibly motivating in mobilizing voters, especially young women. 

The Feminist Majority Foundation, along with the ERA Coalition and its partners — which include the League of Women Voters, AAUW, YWCA, and more — have been working tirelessly to secure the signatures on the discharge petition and are very close to reaching a majority. FMF and the coalition intend to make this a top issue for the 2024 elections.

Background on the Equal Rights Amendment

The ERA “guarantees equality of rights under the law for all persons regardless of sex.” Simply put, the ERA would work to eradicate the second-class citizenship of women in America. After passing the 19th Amendment in 1920, which gave American women the right to vote, women’s suffrage leaders Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman drafted the original ERA to codify the rights for gender equality. The amendment was active in Congress from 1923 forward and was introduced in every session of Congress.

Rep. Shirley Chislom (D-NY) and Rep. Martha Griffiths (D-MI) helped lead the efforts in Congress that resulted in the ERA’s passing. In March 1972, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Emanuel Celler (D-NY), who had initially refused to hold a hearing discussing the ERA, gave the necessary room for both the House and Senate to pass “identical” bills to support making the ERA an official constitutional amendment. 

Although this was a tremendous win, Congress gave a seven-year deadline for three-fourths of states to ratify the ERA. In 1978, however, only 35 states had done so, rather than the 38 required. In 1977, Congress extended the deadline for ratification by three years, but the necessary 38 was not reached. Although there was much pushback, the salience of the ERA grew to the extent that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg successfully argued “for a jurisprudence of gender equality under the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.” The ERA became something people could no longer ignore. 

Where is it now? 

Since the twentieth century, women’s rights activists have continued to keep the ERA in the national conversation. Now more than ever, the codification of this amendment has become vital in establishing a more equally representative democracy, made clear by Rep. Pressley’s passionate discharge petition fight in Congress. Sign4ERA, founded by former Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, has started a petition campaign to mobilize individuals across the nation to voice their support for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment and urge Congress to act. You can add your name to the petition here.

Implications of the ERA 

The ERA would “affirm gender equality in our Constitution, enshrining the principle of equality and an explicit prohibition against sex discrimination in the nation’s foundational document.” The ERA is not simply granting equal rights in a superficial sense. Instead, it would “advance equality in the fields of workforce and pay, pregnancy discrimination, sexual harassment and violence, reproductive autonomy, and protections for LGBTQ+ individuals,” especially with reproductive rights being a primary concern in the election. Put simply, the ERA represents the culmination of the longstanding struggle for equal treatment and rights that many Americans have ardently advocated for. Its significance should transcend the limitations of state-by-state recognition. As Congresswoman Pressley has passionately stated, “there should be no deadline on equality.”

Kamala Harris’ speaking tour highlights the significance of abortion in the election

On January 22, 2024, Vice President Kamala Harris began her nationwide Reproductive Freedoms Tour on what should have been the 51st anniversary of the passing of Roe V. Wade. Arguably, the Vice President’s decision to start the tour on the anniversary is a testament to the important role that reproductive rights will play in the election, especially in the battleground state of Wisconsin, where the tour commenced. In Wisconsin, upon the Supreme Court’s overturning, abortion in the state was deemed illegal for 15 months

Historically, reproductive rights have been a polarizing issue for the American people. This visible contention is due to the pro-choice and pro-life dichotomy birthed out of the fight for rights, which inevitably rethought the civil liberties of all people. This sentiment has been at the heart of the tour’s mission, especially as the Vice President stated, “Every time reproductive freedom has been on the ballot, the people of America have voted for freedom.”  It is not that reproductive rights have become merely a rallying issue for women, but a call to action for all Americans. 

As the Vice President stands on the battlefield where reproductive rights continue to be targeted, the American people are being called into action to make a decision not in the name of choice but in the name of freedom. Thus, in this prime moment, Vice President Harris finds herself persuading voters to consider how the overturning of Roe has led to drastic changes that challenge the liberties and freedom that our founders fought for. 

For the Biden-Harris administration, the civil rights of the American people have been at the core of the administration’s interest, especially when considering their predecessor, who has been associated with the loss of these freedoms. As the Biden-Harris campaign continues to rally its base around reproductive rights, the campaign has released a new campaign ad entitled “Forced,” where an OBGYN personally reflects on her need for abortion and reaffirms that this issue could have been avoided had it not been for the previous administration.

Overturning Roe v. Wade has gone beyond the right for a woman to choose, but has also critically refashioned the freedoms and civil liberties for which our democracy has become an icon. It will inevitably play a significant role in November’s election.

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