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Half a century after its passage, lawmakers try again to enshrine the Equal Rights Amendment

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 31: Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) speaks during a news conference to announce a joint resolution to affirm the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment on Capitol Hill on January 31, 2023 in Washington, DC. The Equal Rights Amendment is a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution meant to guarantee equal rights for all citizens regardless of sex or gender.Drew Angerer/Getty

WASHINGTON—Half a century after the Equal Rights Amendment passed through Congress, Representative Ayanna Pressley introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives on Tuesday that could actually enshrine it in the Constitution.

First introduced in 1923, the ERA would add gender equality to constitutional rights, protecting individuals from gender-based discrimination. When it finally passed both the House and Senate in 1972, however, it included a clause that added a deadline: 38 states had to ratify the amendment by 1979 for the ERA to become law, though that date was later extended to 1982.

Thirty-eight states did finally ratify the amendment – but not until 2020.


Pressley’s resolution seeks to lift the 1982 deadline, which has been the ERA’s main roadblock. Pressley is the first Black woman in the House of Representatives to introduce such a resolution in the history of the ERA. She was joined by Democratic colleagues from the House and Senate in doing so.

“We as women, we have done our job,” Pressley said at a Tuesday news conference unveiling the proposal. “And the states have done their job. And now it’s time for Congress to do its job and pass this resolution.”

The resolution also breathes new life into an ongoing debate about how and whether the amendment can be resuscitated, as well as political debates over its value at all.

There is widespread public support for the ERA. According to a 2020 Pew Research poll, nearly eight in 10 adults favor the amendment’s addition to the Constitution.

But the political landscape is much more divided, and the amendment has grown controversial over the years since it passed Congress.

Five states have voted to rescind their ratification of the amendment since its original passage, though it’s unclear whether they have the Constitutional right to do so. As Republicans increasingly oppose the amendment as a concept, and Democrats largely line up behind it, legal battle lines have followed suit. The left has argued the amendment is valid and should be declared ratified, while the right has argued it has been dead since its deadline elapsed. Court litigation is ongoing


Meanwhile, It’s unlikely that Pressley’s resolution would pass the House this Congress under GOP control, as Republicans have argued that the amendment could negatively impact programs that benefit women such as workplace protections, and potentially change abortion restrictions. They also argue that court decisions have alleviated the need for the amendment.

Democrats, on the other hand, have said it’s essential to explicitly protect women’s rights in the Constitution – and don’t believe the amendment will harm programs that benefit women. But even if the resolution were to garner enough support to pass in both chambers, it’s unclear if that would be enough to satisfy legal arguments about its ratification.

Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, chair of the chamber’s Judiciary Committee, said Tuesday he intends to call a hearing on the resolution before the Presidents’ Day recess.

Several speakers at the Capitol Hill press conference also pointed to the reversal of Roe v. Wade in June 2022 as further evidence of the importance of the ERA. Given that abortion is a procedure primarily serving women, they argued, a gender equality amendment could have affected the Supreme Court’s calculus in the case.

Pressley said the unprecedented number of women serving in legislative roles across the country indicates an inflection point in the country – and presents an opportunity to preserve women’s rights in the face of these legislative changes.


“We’ve seen enough times that unfortunately, gains are not guarantees,” Pressley said. “So we have to fight like hell to preserve the gains that have been made while doing the work of advocating, organizing and legislating to expand upon those rights.”

Jacob Fulton can be reached at Follow him @jacobnfulton.