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

April 28, 2023 Catholic News Agency 1
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

Washington D.C., Apr 28, 2023 / 15:40 pm (CNA).

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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House advances ratification efforts for the Equal Rights Amendment

March 18, 2021 CNA Daily News 1

Washington D.C., Mar 18, 2021 / 11:01 am (CNA).- 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. 

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.” 

“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.