Blog Post

Equal Rights Amendment (Once Again) Fails to Pass

Catholic lawyer and pro-life champion, Phyllis Schlafly in 1978 who led the charge to defeat the ERA.

A century-old amendment that would have added the right to abortion into the Constitution under the guise of securing “equal rights for men and women” has once again failed to pass in the Senate.

According to the Associated Press, the U.S. Senate voted on a measure to remove a 1982 deadline for state ratification that would have revived the controversial Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), but failed to reach the 60-vote threshold. It was stopped by a vote of 51-47 with only two Republican senators, Maine’s Senator Susan Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski voting to remove the deadline.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., knew the measure was unlikely to pass but put it up for a vote for political reasons. He felt it was particularly timely in wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

“Women in America have far fewer rights today than they did even a year ago,” Schumer said, and promised to continue trying to pass the measure.

Because of the way the ERA is worded, preventing a woman’s access to abortion could be construed as a violation of women’s rights. The amendment reads: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” Activists claim that because pregnancy is a condition exclusive to women, denying a woman a right to determine the outcome of a pregnancy is a form of discrimination.

The ERA has a long history. According to Reagan Escude Scott of the Standing for Freedom Center, the bill was first introduced in 1923 by suffragists Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman for the purpose of codifying gender equality into the Constitution.

President Jimmy Carter signing ERA extension on October 20, 1978.

“In effect, it sought to end legal distinctions between men and women with regard to divorce, property, employment, and other matters, officially giving women equal privilege and responsibility in the civic sphere,” Scott writes.

Even though the ERA resurfaced in the 1940s, it didn’t begin to gain traction among legislators until 1972. In that year, it passed both the House and the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support and was sent to state legislatures in order to fulfill the requirement of passage by three-fourths of the states (38) within seven years.

It didn’t happen. Only 30 of the 38 states ratified it due to opposition by conservatives such as activist and lawyer, Phyllis Schlafly, who prophetically argued that it “would open the door for gender-neutral bathrooms, same-sex marriage, and women in military combat, among other concerns,” Scott writes.

By 1977, only 35 states had ratified the ERA. Congress voted to extend the deadline to 1982 but no new states signed on. Instead, five states — Nebraska, Tennessee, Idaho, Kentucky, and South Dakota — rescinded their support.

“Since then, three additional states, Nebraska in 2017, Illinois in 2018, and Virginia in 2020, have voted to ratify the ERA. If not for the seven-year deadline, the 38-state requirement would have been met,” Scott explains.

In order to get around this roadblock, Senators Murkowski and Ben Dardin, a Democrat from Maryland, proposed a resolution to remove the ratification deadline in a way that would have made the ERA officially ratified as of January 27, 2020 when Virginia became the 38th state to ratify it.

However, this measure failed to pass last month, with almost all Republicans and many Democrats feeling the ERA is no longer necessary due to passage of the 14th amendment which gives all citizens equal protection under the law.

Senate Majority Leader Schumer’s comments about how the ERA is especially necessary now in light of the Dobbs decision to overturn Roe, gives away one of the most dangerous hidden items on the agenda of those championing passage of this amendment - enshrining the right to abortion into the U.S. Constitution.

“And that, it turns out, was exactly what ERA proponents have always wanted: An avenue to enshrining the right to abortion into the Constitution, not because of a right to ‘privacy,’ as Roe had wrongly justified, but through a right to equality,” Scott writes.

Last month’s failed vote allowed the pro-life movement to dodge a bullet. “Had the resolution passed, the ERA would have likely been our 28th Amendment and would literally have been the nail in the coffin of the pro-life movement,” Scott writes.

"It is only by the grace of God that the resolution didn’t pass. But for now, the pro-life movement can, and must, carry on the fight to save the preborn: praying, educating, admonishing, supporting, loving, and following Colossians 3:17, which reminds us that ‘whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him’.”

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