From Women’s e-News
Run Date: 08/26/09
By Laura Callow
WeNews commentator Women’s Equality Day today commemorates U.S. women’s suffrage. It also marks the date the ERA was proposed in 1923. Laura Callow’s account of suffrage and ERA’s “invisible enemies” includes a look at today’s insurance lobby.
(WOMENSENEWS)–Today, August 26, women across the country will be celebrating Women’s Equality Day, the 89th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote.
It was a hard-won victory that took 72 years to achieve, so women everywhere should do their best to honor it.
This is also the 86th anniversary of the introduction of the proposed Equal Rights Amendment in 1923 by suffragist Alice Paul, who knew that suffrage ended only one of many forms of discrimination that women face.
The ERA was introduced into every Congress until it was finally approved in 1972 and sent to the states for ratification. However, Congress attached a seven year time-limit; one-seventh of the time it took to get it approved by Congress.
Opponents said this would keep the amendment “contemporaneous,” a confusing reference that has confounded the status of the ERA ever since. When the ratification process stalled at 35 states, Congress granted another three years and three months extending the time to June 1982. When that failed it appeared that ERA proponents would have to start-over.
But then came a rescue line, in 1992, when Congress approved the ratification of the Madison Amendment, first proposed in 1789, it was ratified by six states by 1800 and then lay dormant for almost 200 years before it was ratified.
Why Not the ERA?
ERA proponents asked, if an amendment like that–requiring Congress to stand for election before receiving a pay raise–could take so long, why can’t the ERA have more time?
Then with the backing of legal counsel, they decided the time limit on ERA ratification could be ignored for the following three reasons:
- The Constitution does not mention time limits for amendments.
- The ERA’s time limit is in the proposing clause ? not in the body of the amendment.
- Congress has already extended the time limit.
With this opinion, we embarked on a three-state strategy working for ratification in various unratified states.
Currently ratification efforts of varying degrees are ongoing in eight of 15 of those states.
Meanwhile a Start-over ERA has been reintroduced into every Congress since 1982 — most recently on July 21 of this year.
It’s such a long hard slog, we have to ask ourselves why.
One answer: Powerful economic opposition, from the liquor industry prior to Prohibition to the current-day health insurance industry that fears losing its legal right to charge women higher premiums based solely on their gender.
The liquor lobby opposition began because many suffragists were also prohibitionists (social reformers who hated seeing families become impoverished by alcoholism).
The liquor industry at that time–fearing that enfranchised women would vote for prohibition–formed an anti-suffrage lobby that represented and was paid for by a levy on the brewers of beer, distillers of whiskey, and dealers who sold alcoholic beverages.
They formed alliances with manufacturing and railroad interests, each forming “mutual defense” alliances on special legislative problems. This was the early days, in other words, of what we now know as the big special-interest lobbies.
Carrie Chapman Catt, president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, claimed that combinations of these interests worked with the Republican Party in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania; with the Democratic Party in Texas, Oklahoma and Nebraska; and with both parties in Illinois, Missouri, Iowa and New York.
Chapman Catt referred to the opposition as the invisible enemy3.
Today, many in the ERA push see another invisible enemy in today’s heath insurance industry, which can still legally discriminate against women by charging us higher rates. (See yesterday’s article on this in Women’s eNews.)
At a hearing held by Senator John Kerry, representatives of the insurance industry promised to stop using gender as a basis for setting rates, but backtracked the following week.
However, most versions of Health Insurance reform–if not all–currently contain requirements to end this form of discrimination.
If this reform can be obtained, it will remove a significant source of anti-ERA funding. And this bodes well for the ERA.
Laura Callow has been advocating for women’s rights since 1969. She continues to work for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment because she firmly believes that sex discrimination should be just as unconstitutional as discrimination on account of race, religion or national origin.