Why did the E.R.A. fail to begin with? In 1972, quick ratification seemed likely: In the first year, 22 of the necessary 38 states approved it. But then the pace slowed as the opposition became more organized.
By the late 1970s, a new social conservatism was emerging in the U.S. One of the most vocal opponents was a conservative activist named Phyllis Schlafly, who warned that the E.R.A. would backfire on women. Opponents said it would mean the end of women’s restrooms, the forced merging of the Girl Scouts with the Boy Scouts, and women being drafted into the military alongside men.
These kinds of arguments were persuasive enough to prevent the amendment’s ratification in several states by the 1982 deadline.
The movement to revive the E.R.A. didn’t really pick up steam until after the election of President Donald Trump. Hundreds of thousands of people participated in women’s marches around the U.S. the day after Trump’s inauguration in 2017. Then came the revelations of sexual misconduct by powerful men, which led to the rise of the #MeToo movement.
All this breathed new life into the push for the E.R.A. In 2017, Nevada became the 36th state to ratify it. Then Illinois followed in May.
Despite the new enthusiasm, the amendment’s outcome is uncertain. Many conservative organizations oppose the E.R.A. now, as they did in the 1970s. They say it would be the end of sex-segregated prisons and women’s shelters, and that it would require women to be drafted and serve in combat in equal numbers to men.
“E.R.A. would harm women, not help women,” says Anne Schlafly Cori, chairman of Eagle Forum, the conservative group founded by her mother, Phyllis Schlafly. “The 14th Amendment already grants equal rights to all persons.”