The campaign to win equal rights for women was one of the largest social movements of the 1960s, mobilizing millions of women and like-minded men. American women were instrumental in each of the decade’s large social movements, including the antiwar movement and the struggle for civil rights, but they were often marginalized by male-dominated structures. The women’s movement in this era focused largely on issues of economic inequality and women’s differential legal status.
Abortion rights were a key issue for women’s groups, but before the Supreme Court’s decision in the 1973 Roe v. Wade case, legalization efforts focused on state legislatures. A handful of states permitted abortions in cases of rape and incest, and in 1970 New York became the first state to permit abortion on demand up to the 24th week of pregnancy. The Roe decision was anticipated by Eisenstadt v. Baird, in which the Supreme Court ruled that the law could not discriminate between married and single people in determining access to contraception.
The Nixon administration was supportive of some of the women’s movement’s goals, and offered qualified support for the Equal Rights Amendment banning gender discrimination, which was first approved by congress in 1972. That year also saw the passage of Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in the funding of education and related activities. The statute led to enormous growth in women’s participation in sports.
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