I have been on this Earth for almost 70 years, and yet it was not until the morning of May 3, 2022 that I learned that I was a second class citizen.
That day, I belatedly realized that in the eyes of the United States Constitution, I had, as our United States Supreme Court had ruled in 1857, referring to a different set of second-class humans, “no rights to which the white man was bound.”
May 3, of course, was the day after current Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s memo was released regarding SCOTUS’s potential rejection of his. 1973 decision in Roe vs. Wade. Yes, Friday, June 24, 2022 is the day the court made this rejection real. But it’s like the optometrist sliding the next lens over your eye and saying, “this one, or this one?” Sure, the contrast is sharper, but the effect is the same.
For me, 1973 does not seem so far away. This is the year I graduated from college. Apparently, at the time, I was more focused on my career than on women’s rights. But you see, women’s rights were something I already took for granted. Believe it or not, a 20 year old was just as likely half a century ago to take her rights for granted as a 20 year old today. Things had been decided, the rights had been established, we could all go on with our lives.
That’s why I was in shock on May 3, 2022.
Because it had never even occurred to me to ask this fundamental question: do women in fact have equal rights under American law?
I started googling frantically. And what I discovered within seconds, to my astonishment but not my surprise, is that this is not the case.
As it turns out, equal rights amendment that we heard so much about in my day, and that many of us learned again in the television series “Ms. America,” with Cate Blanchett as ERA opponent Phyllis Schlafly, was never passed into US law.
Pause for reflection.
The proposed wording of the Equal Rights Amendment, which was never ultimately ratified, seems vague enough to satisfy anyone: “Equal rights under the law shall not be denied or restricted by United States or by any state on the basis of gender.”
Can you see anything there to challenge? Given the terminology available at the time? I really can not. Either way, the amendment, passed by Congress in 1972, had to be ratified by at least three-quarters, or 38, of the 50 states. And it didn’t happen until the original deadline of March 22, 1979. It didn’t happen until the extended deadline of June 30, 1982. So the ERA expired.
But wait – there’s more.
States have continued to ratify over the decades. And surprisingly, at the start of 2020, the ERA briefly revived when state number 38, Virginia, finally signed. The validity of these latest ratifications has been questioned, notably by the American archivist David Ferriero, who refused to certify the document within two years. So January 27, 2022—two years after Virginia’s ratification—passed without fanfare, and the amendment fell into oblivion.
All this to say that officially, according to American law, women not have the same rights as men.
The result in today’s world is that lawmakers – now emboldened by the reversal of Roe – can pass any law, anything they can think of, to discriminate against women and their bodies…and nothing. all of this is illegal. There is no recourse when state governments create such laws, put them on the books, and decide to govern by those same laws. And these laws may apply from state to state. Still nothing illegal. Nothing an ordinary citizen can fight against.
Because, remember, women are not now and never have were considered full ordinary citizens of this country.
So welcome to my world, which is the world of 51% of the American population, none of whom enjoys full rights under the law.
Here’s my question for all of us: what are we going to do about it?
Julia Copeland of Fresno retired from nonprofit management in 2021.