Catholic bishops praise Senate’s blocking of ERA, cite abortion, religious freedom concerns

shutterstock_1619476153_1.jpg A participant in the Women's March event Jan. 18, 2020, in San Francisco holds a "Pass the Equal Rights Amendment" sign while marching. | Credit: Sundry Photography/Shutterstock

Catholic bishops praised senators who stood their ground Thursday to prevent efforts to enshrine the Equal Rights Amendment in the Constitution. 

Senate Republicans effectively blocked a resolution that would have eliminated the already-expired 1982 deadline for states to ratify the ERA. The Constitution requires that three-quarters of the states, or 38 states, ratify amendments for them to go into effect. 

The resolution received majority support in the Senate with a 51-47 vote, but 60 votes are needed for cloture to end debate and bring the resolution to a floor vote. After failing to reach the 60-vote threshold, the motion was defeated. 

The ERA would amend the U.S. Constitution to declare that equality of rights under the law cannot be denied on account of sex. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and other opponents voiced concerns that the language could be used to claim a constitutional right to an abortion or could be used to infringe on religious liberty. 

“The Catholic faith teaches that women and men are created with equal dignity, and we support that being reflected in law,” Arlington Bishop Michael Burbidge, who chairs the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, said in a statement. 

“The proposed ‘Equal Rights Amendment,’ however, would likely create a sweeping new nationwide right to abortion at any stage, at taxpayer expense, and eliminate even modest protections for women’s health and the lives of preborn children,” Burbidge added. “It could also pose grave problems for women’s privacy and athletic and other opportunities, and negatively impact religious freedom. I am grateful that the Senate did not advance this proposal that in fact expired decades ago, and I hope that Congress will focus on meaningful support for women and families in need.”

Senate Democrats held a press conference following the vote, in which they criticized Republicans for voting against cloture. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, suggested the amendment would affect the Supreme Court’s recent rulings related to abortion. 

“It is 2023,” Schumer said. “Women are under assault, politically, in so many ways, whether it’s the right to choose or women’s health care or discrimination or so many other things. It’s about time America said no to all of that. It’s about time America said no to the MAGA majority on the Supreme Court, that we need protections for women.”

Only two Republicans, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, voted in favor of the resolution.

The battle over the ERA goes back a century, as it was originally introduced into Congress in December 1923. Congress approved the amendment in 1972, but the next step required at least 38 states to ratify it. The deadline imposed by Congress for ratification was 1979, but only 35 states had ratified it before that date. Congress extended the deadline to 1982, but no additional states ratified the proposed amendment. Although there were questions about the legality of the extension, which was approved in 1978, the matter was never resolved in the courts because not enough states had ratified it anyway. 

When former President Donald Trump took office, Democratic lawmakers revived the effort to ratify the amendment. Three states — Nevada in 2017, Illinois in 2018, and Virginia in 2020 — voted to ratify the amendment even though the deadline had passed about 40 years earlier. 

Although this means 38 states have ratified the amendment, six of those states have rescinded their ratifications. Five states rescinded their ratifications in the 1970s and one other state, North Dakota, did so in 2021. 

The resolution before Congress would have eliminated the 1982 deadline. However, there are still unresolved legal questions concerning whether Congress would have the ability to extend or end the deadline after it expired. There are also legal questions about whether states can legally rescind their ratifications. If the ERA deadline were to be removed, it would likely open up a series of lawsuits that would need to be resolved in the Supreme Court. 

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