Eleanor Smeal, president of the National Organization for Women, is a homemaker and not an attorney as reported in yesterday's editions.
The National Organization for Women officially ended its 10-year battle to win ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment yesterday, announcing a new drive to change the political realities that killed the amendment.
"We will not again seriously pursue the ERA until we've made a major dent in changing the composition of Congress as well as the state legislatures," NOW President Eleanor Smeal said. She said economic boycotts, lawsuits and demonstrations would also be stepped up to gain power for women's rights supporters in boardrooms as well as in public offices.
Smeal told a news conference she blamed ERA's defeat: on the Republican Party, which she said "led the attack" on the amendment; on Democrats' failure to put ERA high on their agenda; on "special corporate interests that profit from sex discrimination," and on "a handful of state legislators, primarily males," whose opposition killed ERA in four key states.
"In the final analysis we were begging men for our rights," she said. "It is an outrage that in 1982 this nation could proclaim that women are not equal," she said.
The amendment, which would have outlawed discrimination based on sex, has been ratified in 35 states since Congress passed it in 1972, but 38 states were needed by June 30 for it to become part of the Constitution. The battle was effectively over earlier this week, when state legislatures in Florida and then Illinois refused to ratify. Oklahoma and North Carolina had voted it down earlier.
Opponents nationwide said ERA was unnecessary because other federal and state laws have effectively halted sex discrimination. Some critics said it would lead to sexually integrated bathrooms and battlefields, and that it would promote homosexuality and the disintegration of families. Smeal said "the silent lobby" of business interests was the real opponent. "I don't believe for a minute that anyone voted for toilets," she said.
Smeal, an energetic attorney, said NOW has been taking in $1 million a month since January in donations--"more money monthly than the Democratic Party"--and has built up a core of 750 telephone banks and 6,700 full-time volunteers, all of which will move into political action. "We close this campaign more buoyant and stronger than when we began," she said.
ERA opponents will be targeted for NOW opposition nationwide, and political action committees are already operating in 40 states, Smeal continued. NOW will seek to elect its friends rather than punish its enemies, focusing on the 1984 races at every level. "Our goal is not vengeance," she said. "Our goal is to make sure there's a whole lot more of us inside."
Smeal argued that large corporations "are notable by their absence" on the list of ERA supporters. "There are no Chambers of Commerce, no associations of manufacturers, no insurance councils," she said. While big business vocally supports women's rights, it "profits so massively from sex discrimination, particularly at the local level," that it works quietly against them, she said.
One of the worst offenders, Smeal said, is the insurance industry, which she charged had worked to defeat the ERA in Florida and will be the target of NOW lawsuits on its rate practices. She said insurance companies may charge young women less for auto insurance, but they overcharge men and older women as a result. Lower life insurance premiums for women, she said, are negated by low retirement benefits.
Ron Snider of the Insurance Information Institute in Washington, a trade association, said women would pay $1.1 billion more in premiums if sex discrimination were eliminated, and that sex is already irrelevant to homeowners and commercial insurance rates. "There has never been any insurance company that has lobbied or taken a position either way on ERA," he said.
Smeal said economic boycotts, public education campaigns and demonstrations would be launched against "selected industries" opposed to women's rights, but she declined to name them. "We're just saying we are going to include these tactics, not just limit our approach to the legislative, political and legal arenas."
Meanwhile, members of Congress promised to reintroduce the ERA on July 14, which is likely to be the first full working day after the July 4 recess. Rep. Pat Schroeder (D-Calif.) said she expects quick approval and quick ratification by states that have already approved it. Then, she said, "We will have seven years to focus on the few states that see it as something they should not do."
In Illinois, six women who fasted 37 days backing ERA had a hearty breakfast, their first major meal since ending the fast Wednesday. "Perhaps we have lost a battle," said group leader Sonia Johnson of Sterling, Va., "but we know we are going to win the war."