The Equal Rights Amendment has been a topic of debate in the halls of Congress on and off for 50 years. On Tuesday, the controversial amendment will again be up for debate during a Senate committee hearing.
Despite the deadline for ratification having expired—depending on who you ask—in either 1979 or 1982, the Senate Judiciary Committee is set to hold a hearing to consider removing the ratification expiration date on the ERA altogether.
The Equal Rights Amendment, or the ERA, would guarantee 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.” But, now as then, opponents of the amendment argue it would harm women’s rights by removing all distinctions between men and women.
“Proponents of the ERA view any instance of legal distinction between men and women as a form of discrimination and therefore something they oppose,” said Emma Waters, a research associate in the Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Life, Religion, and Family at The Heritage Foundation. (The Daily Signal is the news outlet of The Heritage Foundation.)
“But we know that legitimate distinctions between men and women are, in many instances, good,” Waters said. “Think examples like women’s sports or the Selective Service draft. Additionally, sex-segregated spaces like locker rooms, bathrooms, and prisons preserve the safety and privacy of women. The ERA would erase all distinctions between men and women in constitutional law.”
The ERA was first introduced in 1972. Conservative activist and lawyer Phyllis Schlafly was arguably the reason the ERA wasn’t ratified by the requisite 38 states in the 1970s. Schlafly challenged the amendment and launched the STOP ERA movement, with STOP standing for “Stop Taking Our Privileges.”
The now-deceased Schlafly argued the ERA would harm women by requiring them to register for the military draft and by furthering a radical pro-abortion feminist agenda.
After Congress passed the ERA in March 1972, three-fourths of states had to ratify it within seven years for the amendment to be added to the Constitution. Schlafly and opponents of the amendment succeeded in preventing its ratification, even after the expiration deadline was extended to 1982.
Despite the ERA’s ratification deadline passing decades ago, in 2021 the House passed a resolution to remove the ERA’s ratification deadline altogether. In January, Democrats filed a joint House and Senate resolution to remove the expiration date on the ERA.
Now, the Senate Judiciary Committee is considering whether to remove the expiration date on the amendment, again making the amendment eligible for ratification.
Waters argues that in a post-Roe v. Wade America, Democrats are seeking to pass the ERA to restore broad abortion access across the country. Because the amendment removes a distinction between men and women, if passed, “all legal distinctions between men and women [would be treated] as a form of discrimination,” Waters said in a recent Daily Signal commentary.
Because men can’t become pregnant, under the ERA, women would also have the right to not be pregnant, making way for abortion, Waters argues.
An opponent of the amendment, Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, says a more accurate acronym for the ERA is “Everything Related to Abortion.”
But advocates of the ERA say the amendment is about equality between men and women.
“Nothing in the Constitution prohibits us from declaring the ERA as law of the land as it should be,” the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said during a recent press conference, adding, “it’s time for us to vote for equality.”
Even some in Hollywood voiced support for the ERA ahead of Tuesday’s hearing. Actor Mark Ruffalo, best known for his role as “The Hulk” in Disney’s popular Marvel films, tweeted, “The fact that women do not have a modern and effective Equal Rights Amendment is just shameful. There is no valid argument against it. #ERANow”
A vote to remove the deadline is expected to follow the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, in March or April.
If the resolution passes, lawmakers in favor of the ERA will have an unlimited amount of time to gain the support to ratify the amendment into the Constitution. But the legality of the move is certain to be challenged in court.
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