The National Organization for Women voted overwhelmingly yesterday to focus most of its resources during the next year on the Equal Rights Amendment ratification drive, acknowledging that its efforts on behalf of other feminist causes will be weakened.
As its annual conference attended by more than 2,000 members and 500 voting delegates from across the country, the organization also voted almost unanimously to lobby state legislatures on behalf of the congressional amendment that would give full voting representation to the District of Columbia.
NOW the country largest feminist organization, will have 100,000 members by the end of this year and a budget of $2 million, according to President Eleanor Smeal.In contrast to past annual conferences, the meeting held at the Washington Hilton here this weekend showed the organization to be relatively united on issues its members consider important.
While supporters of an effort to have NOW begin to focus once again on issues such as gay rights and abortion felt the vote on strategy would be close, they were quickly and resoundingly defeated. A resolution to help defeat legislative efforts that would restrict the rights of homosexuals was passed unanimously. In years past, NOW has been divided over whether it should align itself with the cause of homosexual rights.
NOW also voted to continue its efforts to ensure women's ability to choose whether or not to have abortions an voted a series of resolutions that were described by speakers as a bill of rights for homemakers.
After a series of close votes, the organization adopted a resolution backing the concept of voluntary, informed sterilization for women and backing legislation that would make it a criminal offense for a doctor or clinic to sterilize a woman who has not been properly counseled.
A large number of delegates, including many Hispanic woman members of NOW, favored the recently issued federal guidlines that require a woman to wait 30 days after deciding to be sterilized and to receive counseling in that period.
Mariana Hernandez, a NOW member from New Jersey who lived in California for six years, said there have been numerous cases in California in which Mexican American women have been sterilized immediately after they requested it during labor and childbirth. In some cases, she said, these women did not speak English well enough to understand that sterilization is irreversible.
NOW members who opposed the 30-day waiting period argued that it allowed the government to "control" women's bodies and that the guidelines were "paternalistic."