Meghan Markle reveals campaign for the ERA after Roe overturn

In a new interview alongside feminist icon Gloria Steinem, Meghan Markle reveals that she and her husband, Prince Harry, had a “guttural” reaction to news last week that the Supreme Court had voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, taking away women’s constitutional rights to abortion and leaving millions of women in America without control over their reproductive choices.

“I know that for so many women right now, there is a sentiment of despair,” the U.S.-born Duchess of Sussex said in a joint interview with Steinem for Vogue. “But again, we have to band together and not wallow. We have to do the work.”

From her home in California, Meghan immediately reconnected with her friend, Steinem, she told Vogue, and the two agreed that it was time to kick into high gear a campaign they say they’ve been been formulating for months: to finally get the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) added to the U.S. Constitution.

In this Aug. 9 2011 photo, Gloria Steinem laughs during an interview with The Associated Press, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer) Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

“Being home, seeing what’s happening in our country and feeling energized and motivated, if this is the type of legislation that we need pushed through, then this is a moment that I am absolutely going to show up for,” said the former TV actress and former working member of the British royal family. “Not just because it’s what we need as women, but it’s what we need as people.”

Steinem added, “The ERA has been ratified by the requisite number of states and we should put the pressure on the White House and Congress to enact it.”

Meghan replied, “Well, Gloria, maybe it seems as though you and I will be taking a trip to D.C. together soon.”

The prospect of Meghan jumping into such an historical moment in U.S. culture and politics will no doubt be controversial, given that members of the British royal family are expected to stay neutral on politics. However, she and Harry have felt much freer to weigh in on political issues since they stepped away from being full-time working royals and moving to California in 2020. Fans of the duchess, as well as many pro-choice advocates, will probably hail her work on the ERA, saying women’s equality and reproductive rights aren’t just political issues but human rights issues.

Efforts to embed women’s equality in the Constitution go back more than a century, after women won the right to vote in 1920. Fast forward more than 50 years to when Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment. The amendment, passed in 1972, said that “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

Congress set a seven-year deadline for three-quarters of states to approve it so it could be added to the Constitution, Time reported. The deadline for ratification was extended by three years from 1979 to 1982. But when that deadline arrived, only 35 states had passed the amendment, and anti-feminists such as Phyllis Schlafly declared victory.

In recent years, advocacy groups helped to renew the public’s interest in the amendment, and three more states have ratified it: Nevada, Illinois and Virginia. Congress held its first hearing on ratifying the amendment in 2019, and as reported by Time, there may be no legal basis to enforce the deadline set by Congress 40 years ago.

Linda Coberly, a lawyer and the chair of the ERA Coalition’s Legal Task Force, told Time that the Constitution doesn’t set deadlines for amendments to be ratified. “It would be unprecedented in our history for Congress to allow a joint resolution deadline to stand in the way of the effectiveness of an amendment that has been ratified by three-fourths of the states,” Coberly said.

In the interview with Vogue, Steinem, a longtime advocate of enactment, agreed with Coberly’s assessment, saying, “All the necessary states have ratified (the ERA), and it just needs acceptance in Congress. So if the president made it a priority, it could happen. It means that we would be on the same standing of inclusiveness as every other democracy in the world.”

Presumably, this is where Meghan would come in: Going to Washington D.C. to lobby Congress and President Biden to ratify the ERA. Meghan said it is “completely nonsensical that that’s even something we’re still fighting for. …  I think now is probably the time more than ever before.”

Steinem believes that participation by Meghan and Harry in this cause could be vital, because of their global profile.

“It’s very, very, very important,” Steinem said. “We trust them and nothing but nothing replaces trust. It is the most important quality or attribute. We can see things on television and not believe them or not trust them, but when people like these two tell us, then we trust it.”

Steinem’s view of the Sussexes being widely admired in the United States is debatable. They have alienated people on the conservative end of the political spectrum, who view them as “woke” and entitled dilettantes, or worse. Even people inclined to support their causes have begun to wonder if they have the ability to deliver on their promises. Meghan also faced criticism for using her Duchess of Sussex title the last time she got political by writing a letter to top congressional leaders last year, advocating for paid family leave in the United States.

As Meghan told Vogue, however, she, like other women, took the Supreme Court’s decision on Roe v. Wade personally.

“I know what it feels like to have a connection to what is growing inside of your body,” Meghan said, referring to when she was pregnant with her two children, Archie, 3, and Lilibet, 1. “What happens with our bodies is so deeply personal, which can also lead to silence and stigma, even though so many of us deal with personal health crises. I know what miscarrying feels like, which I’ve talked about publicly. The more that we normalize conversation about the things that affect our lives and bodies, the more people are going to understand how necessary it is to have protections in place.”

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