The Nation: What Next for US. Women

Houston produces new alliances and a drive for grass-roots power

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Yet many other items on the women's agenda face brighter prospects, largely because Congress has already been considering them. Two versions of a bill that would protect rape victims from inquiries into their sexual histories are currently in committee, as are House and Senate bills that would set up counseling and employment services for widowed or divorced women who have lost their source of income. Further, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act of 1974 has been renewed with a new appropriation of $25 million for the fiscal year and with the definition of "child abuse" broadened to include "sexual exploitation."

Because the women's major goal is passage of the ERA, their immediate target for political action is not Congress but the state legislatures. Three more of them must approve the amendment before the time limit for ratification expires in 16 months. Meanwhile, three states have attempted to rescind their ratifications, though it remains unclear legally whether they will be counted in the yea or nay column. Prospects for approval appear best in Illinois. Florida, North Carolina and Virginia. Since the economic boycott by pro-ERA forces is costing Chicago $15 million in lost convention business, leaders of the Cook County Democratic machine are pressuring state legislators from the city to back ERA. Earlier this year, the Illinois legislature rejected the measure by six votes. In Florida and North Carolina it was defeated by only two. In Virginia, the tally was even closer, with ERA stalled one vote short of passage.

While the boycott squeeze is being applied to Atlanta, Miami, New Orleans, Las Vegas and other convention cities, ERA advocates will also try some gentle persuasion to win support in conservative rural areas. Liz Carpenter of ERAmerica even plans to dispatch a pro-ERA farm wife from Minnesota, whom she met at Houston, to spread the gospel to rural women in Georgia. Says Carpenter: "If anybody's a full partner in this life, it's a farmer's wife. And yet she doesn't have a clear right of inheritance to that farm. This chicken picker can explain how the ERA can help."

The ERA forces will also receive more aid from black women with whom new alliances were forged at Houston to explain the amendment to black politicians. If legislators don't see the light on ERA, they may get the gate at the polls—or so the feminists hope. The National Women's Political Caucus, the political arm of the women's rights movement, is raising money and working to defeat anti-ERA legislators. Name of the operation: Throw the Rascals Out.

Women will be pressing on many other fronts. In Kentucky, 30 women's groups are working on an agenda that includes opening state-supported shelters for battered wives and providing counseling for rape victims and widowed or divorced homemakers. Massachusetts women are battling legislative attempts to cut off state funding for Medicaid abortions, while in California the state women's lawyers association is pushing a bill to limit the extra points that veterans automatically receive on civil service tests, which women's groups claim are a barrier to equal employment opportunities.

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