GOP attorneys general sue to block ERA because it might protect abortion

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The attorneys general of Alabama, Louisiana, and South Dakota are worried ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment might protect women's reproductive rights.

Three Republican attorneys general filed suit this week hoping to derail an effort to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.

The case, filed in federal court on Tuesday, argues the archivist of the United States should not count any new states that ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as the deadline established by Congress for the amendment has expired.

But beyond the procedural concerns, attorneys general Steve Marshall (R-AL), Jeff Landry (R-LA), and Jason Ravnsborg (R-SD) — all men — also warned that ratification would "not promote true equality, but rather a far-left agenda" and would undermine "the progress women have made."

The proposed ERA simply states: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex," and gives Congress the power to enforce it through legislation.

But in their filing, the trio argues "if the ERA were ratified today, activists would urge courts to use the amendment to overturn legitimate regulations of abortion and to mandate state funding of abortions." What's more, they claim, judges might overturn prisons that separate inmates based on their sex, separate sports teams for women, and other sex-specific segregation. These would only be impacted by the amendment if they were deemed to be a denial of equal rights.

When Congress voted in 1972 to send the Equal Rights Amendment to the states, it included a seven-year deadline for the needed 38 states to ratify. Congress later extended this deadline to 1982, but supporters only got 35 states to ratify by that time.

Still, some legal experts have argued that the Constitution does not permit deadlines for ratification of amendments. With legislatures in Nevada (2017) and Illinois (2018) voting in favor of ratification and new Democratic majorities in Virginia expected to do so next year, it is likely that the courts will have to decide this question in this case or another.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for the Alice Paul Institute — a nonprofit organization leading the national push for ERA ratification — blasted the suit.

"The Alabama Attorney General's lawsuit to halt the progress of the Equal Rights Amendment toward full ratification to the Unites States Constitution is a deeply disappointing attempt to continue to deny women and men from gaining full constitutional equality," she wrote.

"It replicates decades old misinformation campaigns that further deny citizens access to the truth, including the fact that 94% of Americans publicly support the Equal Rights Amendment. As 2020 approaches and we celebrate 100 years of women’s voting rights in the United States, the anti-ERA lawsuit is a shameful exercise that denies women, and men, equal legal rights."

The Republican Party once backed equal rights for women. Its platforms in 1952, 1956, 1960, 1972, and 1976 each expressly endorsed the Equal Rights Amendment.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.