Friday, January 31, 2020

The Equal Rights Amendment died in 1982. But is it really dead?

The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), aimed at providing legal equality of the sexes and prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, was first proposed nearly a century ago, in 1923. Four decades later, sponsored by New York Democrat Rep. Bella Abzug, with the support of well-known feminists Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, the ERA was introduced in Congress. It was approved by the House in October of 1971 and by the Senate in March of 1972. It was then sent to the states for ratification, where more than 30 states ratified it within a year.

However, ratification requires the approval of three-quarters, or 38, of the 50 states to become an Amendment to the Constitution, and it fell short. At the seven-year deadline for its ratification set by Congress, and even after the deadline was extended to 1982 by Congress and signed by President Jimmy Carter, fewer than 38 states had ratified the ERA.

In 2018, nearly 40 years after the initial and the extended deadlines had expired, the Illinois legislature adopted a resolution to ratify the ERA, making 37 of the 38 states needed for ratification. 

Earlier this month the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Democrat-controlled General Assembly became the necessary 38thstate to ratify, when the House passed the ERA. Whether this effort matters, or was just a waste of time depends upon whether the deadlines set for ratification by Congress are valid.

This situation is made even more complicated by the fact that five states which previously ratified the ERA had rescinded their approval before the initial deadline occurred. ERA advocates insist, first, that the deadlines did not end the viability of the proposal, and second, that those five states could not rescind their approval.

Logically, if Congress has the authority to pass and send to the states proposals that may become Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, it also has the authority to set a time limit for ratification of these proposals.

Advocates argue that both the initial and the extended time limits should be ignored. But if advocates thought an extension of the deadline was necessary to extend the ratification period until 1982, how can they now argue that deadlines are not valid?

Furthermore, precedent was established for Congress setting a time limit on ratification when, starting with the 18thAmendment and continuing through the last one, the 27th Amendment, Congress did set expiration dates for ratification.

Advocates’ argument that states may not rescind their ratification of the proposed Amendment also seems weak. If a state has the authority to pass a state constitution and state laws, does it not also have the authority to amend that constitution and those laws? If states can pass and amend constitutions and laws, why can they not ratify and then rescind ratification of Amendments to the U.S. Constitution?

The effort to pass the ERA in the 70s and 80s fell short, in part because of efforts of conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly in opposition to it. But had there been truly strong sentiment for the ERA, it would have passed then. And today, decades later, the equality between men and women has substantially improved. Why, then, is the ERA needed?

Following the Illinois vote for ratification in 2018, an article in Business Insider by Daniella Greenbaum stated that “[w]e are no longer living in a time in which women don't have the right to vote or own property. The status of women in the United States could not be more different now than it was in the 1920s, when the ERA was first written.”

Jarrett Stepman, a contributor to The Daily Signal, suggests that among the many potential problems the ERA would cause today if ratified, four deserve discussion.

“Perhaps one of the clearest results of the ERA would be that it would almost be impossible to exclude women from the draft,” he wrote. “At 18 years-old, women would have to sign up for Selective Service just like men. Though the reinstatement of the draft in the near future is unlikely, in any case in which the draft was deemed necessary, women would be included due to the ERA. Given the legal push to open up all combat roles to women, this could have potentially profound societal and individual consequences.”

The second of the four is the possible abolishment of same-sex bathrooms in public buildings. This issue has already become the subject of fierce debate, and more than a few sexual assault crimes have resulted from the creation of gender-neutral bathrooms.

The end of government-funded women-only shelters and other such facilities that help battered women and women harmed by domestic violence is a third problem.

And last, but hardly least, the ERA could force the “right” to taxpayer funding of abortion into the Constitution, at least in Medicare cases where abortion was a “medically necessary procedure,” equal to a “medically necessary procedure” for men.

However, the abortion lobby will certainly seek expansion of federal money for abortions.

Abortion is rarely “medically necessary,” given that unwanted pregnancy nearly always results from voluntary actions, not involuntary actions, like rape or incest. Given that truth, there is little reason for any federal money to be used for abortion. 

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