Now That Roe v. Wade Has Been Overturned, Ratifying the ERA Is More Urgent Than Ever, Says Gloria Steinem – Oprah Mag

Leigh Haber: Hi, Gloria, and thank you for speaking with us. I wanted specifically to talk about the Equal Rights Amendment. Womens rights are under attack. Why is finally getting the ERA on the books crucially important?

Gloria Steinem: First of all, on the global level, I would point out that we are the only democracy in the world that does not have women in its Constitution, which is a travesty in itself. Then, on the more individual level, there are many situations in which the ERAs absence is felt, whether with regard to property or privacy rights, or others.

The ERA wouldnt only protect womens rights, though, right?

The ERA forbids discrimination based on sex or gender. So a man might be discriminated against in a custody case or in some kind of employment situation based on nothing but gender and it would protect him, too. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was always good about pointing that out in her support of the ERA.

Why do you think its been so difficult to get the ERA over the finish line? In the 1950s, it came close to passing. Its been ratified by enough states and yet its still not the law of the land.

One problem is that many who would support it think we already have it. So it's not perceived as the emergency or need that it truly is, especially now after the Supreme Court's decision on Roe v. Wade. And reasons for support or opposition also vary from state to state. For example, in some states there was opposition because the insurance industry there had a profit motive in defeating the ERA since actuarial tables are still sex segregated. It could make a huge difference to them financiallya negative oneto pass it, so they put money behind opposing it. Even when you look at someone like Phyllis Schlafly, who said she was against it for religious reasonsshe was basically a front for the insurance lobby. As I've said before, public opinion polls had always proved that a big majority of American women support the ERA, yet state legislators also knew it was opposed by the insurance industry, chambers of commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and other corporate lobbyists. Health insurance interests alone stood to lose billions if the ERA forced it to stop charging women more for less coverage, and since that industry was largely state-regulated, it had lobbyists in every state capital. Phyllis Schlafly and her antifeminist homemakers had been brought in to cover for legislators who were voting against the ERA anyway.

What role could the ERA have in helping to curb the assault on womens reproductive freedom, with Roe having fallen?

If democracy means anything, it means decision-making power over our own bodiesand that means equal decision-making power. Can men be forbidden to have a vasectomy? So why are women uniquely governedin terms our physical selvesby various state laws? Well, the answer is because we have a womb. We happen to have the one thing guys dont. And when you look back in history at authoritarian movements around the world, you learn that often the first thing they have done is to outlaw abortion and declare family planning a crime against the state.

The Third Reich is one example of that, correct?

Hitler was elected, which in and of itself we sometimes forget. And the very next day he padlocked all the family planning clinics and declared abortion a crime against the state because obviously he was after creating an Aryan race. Whatever people's motives are for wanting to restrict or eliminate the right to choose, the control of reproduction is the first step in authoritarian and religious authoritarian movements.

Was the Catholic Church always opposed to abortion?

Actually, the Vatican didnt outlaw abortion until the late 1860s. Prior to that, in fact, they regulated it. They said a male fetus could be aborted up to so many weeks and a female fetus up to so many weeks more. Their (incorrect) reasoning I believe was that since men were superior, a male fetus grew to viability more quickly.

So why did the Catholic Church stop allowing abortion?

Again, they were not only allowing abortion, they were regulating abortion. But my understanding is that changed when Napoleon III began decimating the French population with wars. To restore population growth, he made a deal with Pope Pius IX that if the Pope would outlaw abortion, then Napoleon III, an emperor, would throw his support behind the doctrine of papal infallibility, which the Pope desperately wanted.

In other words, more bargaining over womens reproductive rights, even way back then.

Yes!

What would the ERA do to boost womens reproductive rights?

It would strengthen rights around our own bodies. The issue of fetal rights would not arise until a fetus could survive outside of womens bodies. Right now fetal rights do apply, even though the fetus is 100 percent dependent on womens hearts and lungs and circulation and so on. But it would not come into play until the fetus was at the point of viability. I mean, in a way thats the kind of popular, sensible understanding already, even though there are differences on the idea of when viability arrives.

Why did the founding fathers leave women out of the Constitution?

Women, as well as slaves and Indians. Yes, it appears we need to face the fact they were only concerned about white guys. The way to see it is that they intended to create a white patriarchy. Depriving rights to women and to people of colorthese are linked, and we cant forget that.

Why is it urgent, in our current climate, that we pass the ERA?

Well, for one thing, its a shame that we dont have it. I really do think that we should put up a huge, huge poster in all the airports where international travelers arrive that says, Welcome to the only democracy in the world that excludes female human beings. Its absurd.

What do you think its chances are of passing the Senate now?

Many legal experts think it doesnt even need to pass the Senate. They say the National Archivist can simply enact it, but so far he hasnt done that. But one way or the other, weve got to get it done!

Thanks, Gloria, for all you continue to do!

Thank you!

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Now That Roe v. Wade Has Been Overturned, Ratifying the ERA Is More Urgent Than Ever, Says Gloria Steinem - Oprah Mag

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