WASHINGTON — The nation’s largest pro-life organization today said an effort by congressional Democrats to revive the 1972 Equal Rights Amendment is an unconstitutional exercise in “political theater,” driven in part by pressure from pro-abortion activist groups.
The U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee today approved, on a 21-11 party-line vote, a measure (H.J.Res. 79) that purports to retroactively erase the seven-year deadline that Congress attached to the ERA when it sent it to the state legislatures in 1972. The prime sponsor of the measure, Rep. Jacki Speier (D-Ca.), told the New York Times she thought a vote of the full House was likely “before the end of the year.”
In a letter sent to House members on November 12, National Right to Life (NRLC) reiterated its long opposition to the 1972 ERA. The letter advised House members that NRLC will “score” any House member who votes for the measure as having voted to add “language to the U.S. Constitution that both NARAL Pro-Choice America and National Right to Life say would likely be employed to invalidate laws protecting unborn children.”
That reference was to a national alert supporting the ERA sent out by NARAL on March 13, 2019, asserting that “the ERA would reinforce the constitutional right to abortion . . . [it] would require judges to strike down anti-abortion laws . . .” Likewise, a recent National Organization for Women factsheet on the ERA stated that “…an ERA — properly interpreted — could negate the hundreds of laws that have been passed restricting access to abortion care…” Similar positions have been enunciated in recent documents from Planned Parenthood and the Women’s Law Project, among others.
“Once a court adopts the understanding that a law limiting abortion is by definition a form of discrimination based on sex, and therefore impermissible under an ERA, the same doctrine would invalidate virtually any limitation on abortion,” including “restrictions on tax-funded abortions” and “any federal or state restrictions even on partial-birth abortions or third-trimester abortions,” NRLC said in the letter.
In addition, the legislative time-travel theory on which the congressional Democratic leadership appears to be operating is clearly unconstitutional, NRLC argued. “The 1972 ERA died unratified in 1979, and the U.S. Supreme Court recognized its demise in 1982,” explained NRLC Senior Policy Advisor Douglas Johnson. “In 1983, the House Democratic leadership, also recognizing that the old ERA was dead, attempted to start over — but the full House voted down the ERA on November 15, 1983. For those who desire an ERA, the only constitutional path is to start over — which would allow Congress to consider revisions to the ERA language.”
Beginning in 1983, NRLC has said that it would drop opposition to (be neutral on) an ERA that contained a simple “abortion-neutralization” clause, to read, “Nothing in this Article [the ERA] shall be construed to grant, secure, or deny any right relating to abortion or the funding thereof.” ERA proponents have refused to accept this revision, although on its face it would affect nothing outside the four corners of the ERA.