The ERA: There is Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself

Fear is a word that has historically triggered a powerful human response. 

In politics, it is often weaponized as fear-mongering, a manipulative strategy politicians employ to instill fear through disseminating exaggerated rumors of danger, especially during significant political events.
Understanding this tactic involves grasping its underlying theory, which recognizes our evolutionary history and instinct to focus on danger. Various social agents, including some news media, political campaigners, social reformers, and advertisers exploit fear for public attention. This can lead individuals to develop distorted perceptions of the world, potentially bolstering support for radical political agendas.

As the 2023 United States elections and the 2024 U.S. Presidential elections approach, Republicans have intensified the use of this tactic to secure support and further divide the voting public. One instance is its opposition to publishing the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).


The ERA, which simply states that “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex,” has, and continues, to face many obstacles to its publication. 

Historically, passage required ratification by 38 states by a 1982 ratification deadline. Although this initial requirement was not met, 38 states have since ratified the ERA. Despite this, significant challenges persist, with opponents disseminating unfounded fears to prevent the ERA’s publication.


This is nothing new. Opposition to the ERA can be traced back to Phyllis Schlafly – a conservative activist and lawyer – who organized the “Stop ERA” movement, successfully preventing its ratification in 1972.

The STOP ERA movement – “Stop Taking Our Privileges” – originated from Schlafly’s belief in “family values” deeply rooted in conservative religious sentiment. She opposed gender equality, advocated traditional gender roles, and contended that physical attributes should dictate the social roles of women and men. Schlafly also expressed concerns about potential moral and societal decline resulting from changes to women’s traditional roles. “What I am defending is the real rights of women,” Schlafly declared then. “A woman should have the right to be in the home as a wife and mother.”

Instilling fear was Schlafly’s primary campaign tool against the ERA, women’s equality. She opposed various forms of feminism, abortion rights, and gay rights, demonstrating how fear could influence people to vote against their best interests.

However, Schlafly ignored the fact that the ERA actually aimed to provide women with a choice regarding their futures, rather than removing their rights as wives and mothers.  


Women have encountered, and still confront, discrimination not only within the personal sphere but also within the public domain, notably stemming from biases embedded in insurance industry premiums.

“The insurance industry overcharges women for annuities, life insurance, and various insurance products. They make a lot of money through sex discrimination,” says Katherine Spillar, the Executive Director of Feminist Majority Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to women’s equality, reproductive health, and non-violence.

If the ERA were to be published, insurance companies and regulators would be forced to cease gender-based discriminatory practices targeting women. This would lead to reductions in elevated premium rates for women in many types of insurance and annuities, potentially prompting concerns about the need to recalibrate these rates to align with those offered to men.


One of the pathways suggested to finally publish the ERA involves a ‘starting over’ process which, in the current political climate, presents a challenge, necessitating approval by two-thirds of each chamber of Congress and ratification by three-quarters of state legislatures.

“The people who point to starting over are the opponents of the Equal Rights Amendment,” remarked Nicole Vorrasi Bates, the Executive Director of Shattering Glass, a non-profit organization dedicated to gender equality.


Reproductive rights are taking center stage for conservatives in their opposition to the ERA, with Republicans using fear-mongering to deflect attention and induce panic. “The two issues they raised were that the Equal Rights Amendment would permit abortion on demand up until birth and they were concerned about women’s sports and bathrooms and prisons, and all of this amounted to nothing more than fear-mongering,” Bates continued. 

“There’s real opposition organized against it, and they have great influence with some of these senators and House members. They have to be exposed, and we have to be smarter,” Spillar adds. She also agrees opponents capitalize on fears of reinstating abortion rights to hinder ERA implementation.

Conservatives are leveraging yet another fear tactic to advance their agenda by fostering anxiety about LGBTQ+ equality, which has led to a surge in the introduction of anti-trans bills across the United States. This has taken various forms, including restricting drag performances and book readings in the presence of children, limiting in-school discussions about sexual orientation, and fueling debates about transgender bathroom policies.


There is a sign that things might undergo a slight shift with Colleen Shogan’s historic appointment as the first woman U.S. Archivist. However, it’s not certain that she will wield direct influence over the publication of the ERA, given that President Biden has previously refused to instruct his archivists to publish it. 

“I think she’s going to be very lucky to be the archivist when the Equal Rights Amendment is finally added to the Constitution, and she gets to officially publish it,” Spillar says, envisioning it as a proud moment for the newly appointed archivist. 

Bates also stresses the need for President Biden to direct the archivist to publish the ERA, thereby resolving the issues raised by the Trump LLC memo from January 2020, which blocked the former archivist from doing so.


Just like his predecessor, however, President Biden has not supported publication of the ERA, so both Democrats and Republicans find themselves on the same side of the issue, despite not openly admitting it.  “The Trump administration, and currently the Biden administration, have effectively become the judge, jury, and potential executioner of the Equal Rights Amendment,” Bates pointed out.

While the reasons behind Republican resistance to the ERA publication were clearly stated, the motives behind Democratic obstruction remain unclear, despite overwhelming public support for the Amendment. This perplexing situation is, as Bates describes it, “the million-dollar question.” It raises concerns about legislators not aligning with the will of the people.

“A very large majority of women and men in this country, including Republicans and Independents and Democrats, huge numbers support the Equal Rights Amendment being added to the Constitution,” Spillar adds. She finds it tragic and unfortunate that candidates who advocate for women’s rights, abortion, and the ERA are not making better use of these issues in their election campaigns.


The ongoing debate surrounding the ERA underscores the broader issues of sex equality, women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and the use of fear as a political tactic, all of which continue to shape the political landscape in the United States. Whether about abortion rights, LGBTQ+ rights, or various facets of gender equality, opponents of the ERA have resorted to fear-mongering to instill panic and hinder progress. The success of this tactic will ultimately depend on how candidates incorporate the ERA into their own agendas to win over voters. 

“People can’t be pro-equality, pro women’s rights, pro LGBTQ+ rights, pro-choice, unless you are calling for the immediate publication of equal rights in it,” Bates concludes. “The opponents are literally fear-mongering in an effort to stop the Equal Rights Amendment.”

About the author: Natalie Novakova is a fellow in the Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program* at Women’s eNews, funded by the Sy Syms Foundation. The Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program at Women’s eNews fellowship supports editorial and development opportunities for editorial interns in the pursuit of journalistic excellence.

The Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program:

The Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence program at Women’s eNews was launched in 2014 with support from the Sy Syms Foundation. The fellowship provides support and development opportunities for editorial interns in the pursuit of journalistic excellence.

“For a democracy to flourish all voices must be heard.” says Marcy Syms, a founding Trustee and President of the Sy Syms Foundation. “Through its investigative reporting Women’s eNews gets at the essence of good journalism. The Sy Syms Foundation is proud of this collaboration to support today’s newest women journalists.”

As part of its mission to create social change for women and girls through investigative reporting, Women’s eNews helps foster, train, and support the career development of new journalists with a focus on social justice and women’s rights.

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