Advocacy Spotlight: The Equal Rights Amendment

Did you know that there is no constitutional protection that explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex? That is because the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which was introduced in Congress nearly 100 years ago, has never been ratified. Mississippi is one of thirteen states that have failed to support this amendment. Without the necessary three-fourths of states supporting the ERA, equal rights for all citizens is still not guaranteed by the Constitution on the basis of sex.   

Background of the ERA

The ERA is a lot older than many people think. In 1923 Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman, leaders in the women’s suffrage movement, wrote the Equal Rights Amendment that stated

Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Support for the amendment blossomed in the 1960s and 1970s as the movements for women’s rights and civil rights gained traction. With overwhelming bipartisan support behind it, the ERA easily passed both the House of Representatives and Senate in the early 1970s, and it was submitted to the state legislatures for ratification. 

By 1977 thirty-five of the necessary thirty-eight states had ratified the ERA. Many Mississippi groups, including the Mississippi Nurses Association, the Jackson Women’s Coalition, and the Mississippi Hairdressers and Cosmetologists were active in campaigning for the ERA in the state. But another campaign was working against them: the “STOP (Stop Taking Our Privileges) ERA,” led most notably by conservative political activist Phyllis Schlafly. Their messages centered around their support of male dominance and their distrust of the federal government. Unfortunately, STOP ERA thwarted the political momentum towards the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment primarily by targeting policy makers in southern states. When the ERA was introduced in the Mississippi state legislature in 1973, it didn’t receive enough support to make it out of committee for a full vote. 

Why is the ERA important today? 

Its language is simple, but its effect would be powerful. The Equal Rights Amendment would enshrine the equality of the sexes into our Constitution and protect the rights of not only women, but also people who are nonbinary, queer, or trans, from the whims of Congress and the states.

Though various protections for women and LGBTQ individuals have been won legistiavely, these efforts to piecemeal protections have left gaps and loopholes, and some require ongoing Congressional support, such as the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) which requires regular reuthorization for continued funding. A Constitutional amendment could close those gaps. Additionally, if ratified the ERA could be a critical piece of advocating for reproductive rights, health, and justice–one of the very reasons that anti-choice activists have worked so hard to organize against its ratification. 

The ERA is still viable, and it’s just as vital now as it was almost a hundred years ago. The state of Nevada ratified the ERA in 2017, followed quickly by the state of Illinois in 2018. That means only one more state is needed to move the Equal Rights Amendment out of limbo. Currently efforts to ratify the ERA are active in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Florida. 

What can Mississippians do to advocate for the ERA?

The key to ratifying the ERA is building awareness for it among voters and pressuring state legislators to support it. One way to keep informed on both the state and national level is to sign up for updates from organizations like the Alice Paul Institute and the Equal Means Equal project, an initiative supported by the Heroica Foundation which also produced a documentary film about the ERA called Equal Means Equal. To learn more about how to host a screening in your community, visit their website.


Celebrating Legislative Protections for Reproductive Rights

Abortion restrictions and bans seem to be dominating headlines on a daily basis. As attacks on reproductive rights continue to rise and increase in severity, it can be easy to overlook the significant achievements and strides being made to protect and expand access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare in several states around the country. These legislative victories from the past month are worth celebrating as they provide inspiration and practical strategies to guide our work in the coming weeks, months, and years. 


This month the state of Illinois passed the Reproductive Health Act, a comprehensive bill that protects abortion in a number of ways. First, it requires all insurance plans, public and private, to provide coverage for abortion care. Second, it removes targeted restrictions for abortion providers and expands the pool of providers to include nurses and physician assistants. Third, it repeals old state laws that criminalized abortion. Fourth, it allows for second trimester abortion without requiring a second physician’s opinion for medically-necessary procedures.


Nevada’s governor signed into law legislation that ends the practice of compelling proivders to share the “emotional implications” of getting an abortion witht their patients. Under this new law providers are no longer required to ask about a patient’s marital status or age prior to their care. Similar to the Illinois legislation, it also removes criminal penalties for those who provide abortion medication without the advice of a doctor. Gov. Steve Sisolak said in a statement, “Nevada has a long history of trusting the women of our state to make their own reproductive health care decisions and protecting the right to reproductive freedom.”


In an effort to expand abortion access to those living in rural areas, Maine passed legislation that would allow medical professionals who are not physicians, inlcuding nurses and physician assistants, to provide abortion care in the state. Governor Janet Mills said, “By signing this bill into law, Maine is defending the rights of women and taking a step towards equalizing access to care as other states are seeking to undermine, rollback, or outright eliminate these services.” 

And… Mississippi

While politicians in our state scale up their fight against reproductive rights, there are fearless and faithful activists in our state working tirelessly to protect them, like Laurie Bertram Roberts, Shannon Brewer, and Derenda Hancock, whose work to ensure abortion access for Mississippians was profiled in the New York Times magazine, and Judge Carlton Reeves, who blocked the 6-week abortion ban proposed by the state legislature, stating in his ruling that the ban “prevents a woman’s free choice, which is central to personal dignity and autonomy.” 

Lastly, in these difficult times, many faith leaders, some for the first time, are raising their voices in support of reproductive dignity and decrying the injustice of the abortion bans spreading like wildfire in the South and Midwest. Rev. Emily Heath, a pastor in the United Church of Christ, preached for the first time about abortion. They ended their sermon with this call to action: “This is our chance, as Christians, to change the narrative. Moderate and progressive Christians are rarely the ones chosen to be talking heads on the evening news when it comes to matters of faith. That’s because we’ve been too quiet. But that can change. That must change. Our moral voice, our voice of Christ’s love, is needed more than ever.”

Caring for Ourselves in Troubling Times

Three decades ago Audre Lorde, the feminist poet and activist,  wrote, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare. ” All of these years later Lorde’s framing of self-care is critically important as we struggle for justice in these tumultuous days. Continuing the arduous work of creating a more just, compassionate world requires us to pause, to rest, and to heal. Do not lose heart.

The practice of sustaining ourselves looks different for everyone and may take some experimenting to figure out what works best. Below are a few suggestions to consider trying as we navigate the days and months ahead. Many of these ideas are probably ones you’ve heard before, but we hope this list serves as a gentle reminder to make your well-being a priority. 

Show your body some love and gratitude. The stress and ‘busyness’ of life often take a toll on our physical health, but we don’t always feel it until a crisis comes on. So do what you can to give your body the care and respect it deserves. Schedule that haircut or teeth cleaning you’ve been putting off. Actually take your lunch breaks (away from your desk!) Get outside, play with that puppy, crank up that music. When stress runs high, practice a few deep breaths or gentle stretches.

Consume news mindfully. Identify what sources of news are triggering and which are helpful in keeping you informed. If news notifications are distracting or anxiety-inducing, turn them off. If you’re worried about missing an important story, consider blocking off fifteen minutes in the morning (preferably not right after you wake up) and in the evening (preferably not right before going to bed) to get caught up.

Unfollow social media accounts that cause unnecessary stress. If there is a particular news outlet, pundit, or personality that constantly makes your blood boil, protect your energy by clicking “unfollow.” Online marketers purposefully exploit our emotions for revenue, so don’t let them! As with news consumption, consider scheduling a finite block of time for social media. You may even want to delete the apps from your phone or tablet to prevent mindless scrolling.

Choose online battles wisely. Not every argument is worth your time. When there is a matter you’d like to discuss, share your expertise wisely and compassionately, and feel free to practice the “chime in and let it go.” You can even turn off notifications for that particular conversation thread.

Likewise, choose in-person battles wisely. It’s ok– and even healthy– to say no to that committee, or march, or meeting. The path to justice is not a sprint, or a marathon. It’s a relay. It’s ok to pass the baton to others when you’re low on spirit or need time to recharge. Remember this advice from La Sarmiento: “Know that in any given moment, our comrades are working for causes that matter. For one of us to take a break for a few minutes or a few days is totally OK.”

Remember that you are not alone. Isolation can be soul crushing. We’re here for you! If you’re looking for more support and solidarity, please send a request to join our private Faith in Women Facebook group. We’d love to have you. Or send us an email!