Would the ERA Force Women Into Combat?

The Equal Rights Amendment and the Fear of Drafting Women

Female Marines in Afghanistan, 2010
Female Marines in Afghanistan, 2010. Paula Bronstein / Getty Images

Throughout the 1970s, Phyllis Schlafly warned of the "dangers" of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the United States Constitution. She declared that the ERA would take away legal rights and benefits women already possessed, rather than conferring any new rights. Among the "rights" that would be taken away, according to Phyllis Schlafly, were the right of women to be exempt from the draft and the right of women to be free from military combat. (See "A Short History of E.R.A." in the Phyllis Schlafly Report, September 1986.)

Drafting Mothers?

Phyllis Schlafly called the law that made 18-year-old male citizens eligible for the draft "classic" sex discrimination, and she did not want that "discrimination" to end.

The ERA was passed by the Senate and sent to the states in 1972, with a 1979 deadline for ratification. The draft, or military conscription, ended in 1973, and the U.S. moved to an all-volunteer military. However, there was a concern that the draft may be reinstated. ERA opponents evoked the fear of mothers being taken from their children, describing a scene in which a child watches war news and worries about when mother will come home, while dad scrubs the floor.

Apart from the obvious gender stereotypes in such images, the feared outcome was not accurate about which women would eventually be drafted, if there were ever a draft again. The official 92nd Congress Majority Report of the Senate Judiciary Committee analyzed the effects the ERA would have. The committee report said the fear that mothers would be conscripted from their children was unfounded. Many women would be exempt from service just as many men were exempt from service. There were service exemptions for many reasons, including dependents, health, public official duties, etc.

Women in Combat?

The ERA ultimately fell three states short of ratification. Even without an amendment guaranteeing equal rights, women's duties in the U.S. military brought them closer and closer to combat during the next few decades, particular during the early 21st century in Iraq and Afghanistan. By 2009, The New York Times reported that women were patrolling streets with machine guns and serving as gunners on tanks, even if they technically could not be assigned to infantry or Special Forces duty.

Phyllis Schlafly remained consistent in her position. She continued to oppose any new efforts to pass the ERA, and she continued to speak out against women in combat during the George W. Bush administration.