STOP ERA: Phyllis Schlafly's Campaign Against Women's Equality

A Campaign Against the Equal Rights Amendment

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

STOP ERA, sometimes written as Stop ERA or STOP E.R.A., is the name of Phyllis Schlafly's campaign against the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Schlafly founded STOP ERA after the proposed amendment was passed by the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives in 1972. Stop ERA played a significant role in the fight against ratification of the ERA during the 1970s.

The name is based on an acronym (probably reverse engineered): Stop Taking Our Privileges.  The name reflects an underlying argument: that women were protected under current law and had special privileges that were needed, and that making law gender neutral would remove all special protections and privileges.

Major supporters of the STOP ERA campaign were from what was then called the ultraconservative wing of the Republican Party (many of whom had already been supporting Schlafly's Eagle Forum).  It was common for fundamentalist churches and their pastors, or Mormon or conservative Roman Catholic groups, to organize for STOP ERA.  The heaviest opposition to the ERA was in Bible Belt areas of the South and in western states with large Mormon populations.  Churches were able to provide meeting spaces and connections with legislators that were valuable to the strategic approach of STOP ERA.

Though STOP ERA included people from a wide variety of existing groups, Phyllis Schlafly was in charge from the top of a hierarchy in which she hand-picked state directors. Then the state organizations raised funds and decided on strategy.

The Ten-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. Phyllis Schlafly continues her STOP ERA campaign through her Eagle Forum organization, which warns that radical feminists and “activist judges” still want to pass the amendment.  

The Anti-Feminist Philosophy

A prominent conservative figure, Phyllis Schlafly is well known for her STOP ERA stance as well as other anti-feminist positions. The Eagle Forum describes her as the “most articulate and successful opponent of the radical feminist movement.” An advocate for honoring the “dignity“ of the role of homemaker, Phyllis Schlafly called the women’s liberation movement highly detrimental to families and the U. S. as a whole.

Reasons to Stop the ERA

Why “STOP ERA”? Phyllis Schlafly traveled across the U.S. throughout the 1970s calling for opposition to the ERA because it would lead to the following, most of which pro-ERA lawyers argued were not actually real threats from the ERA:

  • Homosexual marriages: traditional gender roles were, Schlafly argued, essential for preserving the family.
  • Women in combat: women, Schlafly argued, would weaken the military's combat strength, and serving in the military would violate traditional gender norms.
  • Taxpayer-funded abortions: Schlafly, a Roman Catholic, ardently opposed abortion.
  • Unisex bathrooms: one of the best-known of the arguments Schlafly promoted, this was likely meant to create fear of losing a safe space.  Schlafly argued that the ERA would also remove laws that depended on gender to define a sex crime, and that it would weaken laws about rape.
  • Elimination of Social Security benefits for widows: she believed women should not be in the paid workforce (though she herself was paid a salary) especially if they had young children, and so a Social Security benefit for women who had not earned their own benefits was essential to the mother's ability to stay home.
  • Hurt families: She argued that the ERA would abolish a husband's legal responsibility to support his wife and family, and making child support, that it would alter child support and alimony laws to make them gender neutral.  In general, she argued that it would undermine the authority of men over women, which she saw as the proper power relationship for well-functioning families. 

    Many of these claims about what the ERA would do are disputed by legal scholars. On the other hand, some of these results evolved after the 1970s to become public policy, accepted by a majority of the electorate.

    The Eagle Forum and so-called states’ rights groups warn that the ERA would transfer a great deal of power from state to federal governments.

    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.