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House advances ratification efforts for the Equal Rights Amendment

Equal_Rights_Amendment_Sundry_Photography_Shutterstock.jpg Credit: Sundry Photography/Shutterstock

The House on Wednesday voted to remove the deadline for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, attempting to allow its ratification nearly 40 years after the original deadline. 

The joint resolution removing the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) deadline passed 222-204 on a largely party-line vote, with four Republicans joining Democrats in support. 

The ERA prohibits sex discrimation, stating that “[e]quality of rights under law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” The U.S. bishops’ conference (USCCB) is among those who have opposed the measure, arguing it could be interpreted to allow taxpayer-funded of abortion and overturn abortion restrictions. 

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, said in a statement on Wednesday that the ERA “may as well be called the Abortion Rights Act, as it would usher in extreme policy implications by enshrining a ‘right’ to abortion in the U.S. Constitution alongside the foundational principles of our great nation.” 

“Its ratification would mean the indefinite blocking of state and federal policy to protect the rights of children in the womb,” Dannenfelser said. 

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In their March 12 letter to members of Congress, the USCCB praised the amendment’s goal of ensuring “just wages and the fair treatment of women,” but they warned it would go far beyond that and require government funding of abortion. Two states’ versions of the ERA have already done just that, the USCCB noted.  

It could also threaten conscience protections of religious groups opposed to abortion, the conference warned, if the amendment was interpreted to make abortion a “right.”

Although Congress approved the amendment, it was never ratified by the 38 states necessary to add it to the U.S. Constitution. The original congressionally-mandated deadline for its ratification expired in 1982, but some states, including Virginia, have ratified the amendment in recent years. Supporters of the ERA say those ratifications - in addition to the previous state votes to ratify the amendment - should all count. 

According to CNN, some of the states that recently voted to ratify the Amendment sued the archivist of the United States last year in order to push for the ratification of the ERA as the 28th Amendment to the Constitution.

A federal judge dismissed the case earlier this month, writing that the congressionally-mandated deadline had long expired. “Plaintiffs' ratifications came after both the original and extended deadlines that Congress attached to the ERA, so the Archivist is not bound to record them as valid,” Judge Rudolph Contreras wrote.

Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.), who opposed the House measure on Wednesday, said it “is not about equality or women’s rights.” 

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“It’s about enshrining unrestricted abortion in the Constitution and allowing full taxpayer funding for abortion,” Walorski said. “That’s why I voted no. Now is not the time to weaken pro-life protections. Now is the time to defend the unborn and uphold the sanctity of life.”

In a statement, Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.), who supported the measure, said she recalled learning about the amendment “when I was in kindergarten.” 

“We’ve been debating a version of this amendment for almost 100 years, since it was authored by a New Jersey woman named Alice Paul,” Sherrill said. “The fact that the effort to enshrine women’s rights in the Constitution has been so long and hard is not surprising, but I’m proud that with this vote we continue that work. I hope the Senate will join us in paving the way to finally ratify the Equal Rights Amendment after all this time.

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