Phyllis Schalfly's STOP ERA Campaign Against Women's Equality

Phyllis Schlafly of Stop ERA
Joan Roth / Archive Photos / Getty Images

STOP ERA was the name of conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly's campaign against the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) which she founded after Congress passed the proposed amendment in 1972. Her campaign played a significant role in the fight to prevent ERA from being ratified in the 1970s.

The Origins of STOP ERA

The name of STOP ERA is based on an acronym for "Stop Taking Our Privileges." The campaign argued that women were already protected under the laws of the time and making ERA gender neutral would somehow deprive women of their special protections and privileges.

STOP ERA's major supporters were already supporters of Schlafly's conservative group, Eagle Forum, and came from the right wing of the Republican Party. Christian conservatives also organized for STOP ERA and used their churches to provide meeting spaces for events and network with legislators who were valuable to the strategic approach of the movement.

Though STOP ERA included people from a wide variety of existing groups, Phyllis Schlafly led the effort and hand-picked state directors to steer the campaign as well. The state organizations raised funds and decided on a strategy for the initiative.

The 10-Year Campaign and Beyond

The STOP ERA campaign fought against the amendment from the time it was sent to the states for ratification in 1972 until the final ERA deadline in 1982. Ultimately, ratification of the ERA fell three states short of the number needed to add it to the Constitution.

Many organizations, including the National Organization for Women (NOW), continue to work for an amendment guaranteeing equal rights for women. In response, Phyllis Schlafly continued her STOP ERA campaign through her Eagle Forum organization, which warned that radical feminists and “activist judges” still want to pass the amendment. Schlafly, however, died in 2016.

The Anti-Feminist Philosophy

Phyllis Schlafly was so well known for her antagonism to gender equality that the Eagle Forum described her as the “most articulate and successful opponent of the radical feminist movement.” An advocate for honoring the “dignity“ of the role of homemaker, Schlafly called the women’s liberation movement highly detrimental to families and the U.S. as a whole.

Reasons to Stop the ERA

Phyllis Schlafly traveled across the U.S. throughout the 1970s calling for opposition to the ERA because it would supposedly lead to a reversal in gender roles, same-sex marriages, and women in combat, which would weaken the military's combat strength. Opponents of the amendment also speculated that it would result in taxpayer-funded abortions, unisex bathrooms, and remove laws that depend on gender to define a sex crime.

Perhaps most of all, Schalfy feared that ERA would hurt families and eliminate Social Security benefits for widows and homemakers. Although she had earned a salary, Schalfy did not believe women should be in the paid workforce, especially if they had young children. If women were to stay home and raise families, earning no benefits of their own, Social Security was a necessity.

Another concern was that ERA would abolish a husband's legal responsibility to support his wife and family and would alter child support and alimony laws to make them gender neutral. Overall, conservatives worried that the amendment would undermine the authority of men over women, which they saw as the proper power relationship for well-functioning families. 

Many of these claims about ERA have been disputed by legal scholars. Still, the STOP ERA campaign continues to generate news whenever the ERA is reintroduced in national or state legislative sessions.

Edited and updated with additional information by Jone Johnson Lewis.