The U.S. bishops’ conference is urging congressional lawmakers to oppose the proposed Equal Rights Amendment, a measure they say could threaten religious freedom and fund abortion.
Some members of Congress are pushing for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the United States Constitution. The amendment states 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.”
Although the original congressionally-mandated deadline for the ratification of the amendment was 1982, some members in the House now seek to remove that deadline and honor the recent votes of several state legislatures, as well as previous votes of other states, to ratify the amendment.
Although the amendment’s goal of ensuring “just wages and the fair treatment of women” is laudable, leading U.S. bishops have said, they warned in a March 12 letter to members of Congress that the amendment’s language prohibiting sex discrimination would require government funding of abortion by design.
“At least two states have construed their own equal rights amendments, with language analogous to that of the federal ERA, to require government funding of abortion,” stated the letter by Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City and Archbishop Paul Coakey of Oklahoma City, as well as Bishop David Konderla of Tulsa, sent to members of Congress.
Archbishop Naumann is chair of the bishops’ pro-life committee, while Archbishop Coakley chairs the bishops’ domestic justice committee, and Bishop Konderla chairs the bishops’ subcommittee on marriage.
The bishops added that “abortion advocates in recent years have freely admitted that they intend to use the ERA” to argue against abortion restrictions “such as third-trimester or partial birth abortion bans, parental consent, informed consent, conscience-related exemptions, and other provisions.”
Their letter also warns that the ERA could be used against any religious organizations opposed to this expansion of abortion.
The bishops said the amendment would hinder “the ability of churches and other faith-based organizations to obtain and utilize conscience protections whenever there is a claimed conflict with the sexual nondiscrimination norms that the ERA would adopt.”
Congress approved the amendment in 1972 and sent it to the states for ratification, but the necessary two-thirds of states did not ratify it by the 1979 deadline. After Congress granted a three-year extension that deadline was also not met.
Some states, including Virginia, have ratified the amendment in recent years, prompting supporters of the ERA say those state votes should count towards the requisite 38 states needed for ratification.
After several states sued to have the amendment added to the Constitution, a federal district court judge ruled on March 5 that the deadline for ratification had long passed, according to CNN. The legal path forward for the amendment remains unclear.
The bishops’ letter states that “recent Popes like St. John Paul II and Francis have spoken powerfully about the need to do more to address unjust inequities between women and men,” and encourages members to address this matter.
“The ERA could likewise make it more difficult for faith-based organizations to compete on a level playing field with secular organizations in qualifying for government funds to provide needed social services,” the letter states.
It cites as an example that the amendment would enable the government to argue that a health care worker’s decision “not to perform an abortion or gender-related surgery is sex discrimination.”