UPDATE, January 15, 2020, 3:57 p.m.: Bills to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment passed both chambers of the Democratic-majority Virginia legislature on Wednesday.
Democratic lawmakers and equality advocates in Virginia are once again gearing up for a push to pass the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which would amend the U.S. Constitution to guarantee equal rights regardless of sex.
The resolution cleared its first hurdle on Wednesday when it was approved by a Virginia State Senate committee. Later that evening, Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam called on state legislators to pass the ERA and become the 38th state to ratify it. The ERA would make illegal all sex-based discrimination in the United States.
The measure still needs to clear the state house and senate. According to the Associated Press, it remains “unclear if there are enough votes in the GOP-controlled General Assembly for the measure to pass.” Virginia’s approval would push the ERA over the threshold needed for ratification. The U.S. Congress passed the ERA in 1972, and while the last deadline for ratification was in 1982, many believe there are viable avenues to pursue in hopes of reviving it.
Republican state Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (Warrenton) joined Democrats in voting to advance the ERA during Wednesday’s committee vote. Vogel introduced a notorious abortion restriction in 2012 that could have forced many seeking abortion care to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound.
Anti-choice activists are now mobilizing to block the ERA. In a letter to Virginia legislators, a coalition of abortion rights opponents claimed the push for equal rights was “a Trojan horse for taxpayer-funded abortion.” The letter—whose signatories included Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins, March For Life President Jeanne Mancini, Concerned Women for America President Penny Nance, and Family Foundation President Victoria Cobb—suggested that changing the Constitution to give equal rights to women “strips away from women their unique place in the law.”
“Not only will real protections be overwritten by this heavy-handed measure, the most profound change will be creating a constitutional foothold for abortion,” the letter argued, going on to dub the ERA as the “Everything Related to Abortion Act.” The activists wrote that in “New Mexico and Connecticut, courts have agreed that abortion should be covered by taxpayers based on their reading of ERA language similar to what has been proposed.”
Anti-choice advocates spoke against the resolution during a Thursday press conference organized by the Family Foundation of Virginia, as the Free Lance-Star reported.
In an interview last year with CNN, state Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy (D-Woodbridge), who co-sponsored the measure, explained that the ERA would offer new legal protections for women and shore up nondiscrimination laws already in place. “You have the Civil Rights Act, but what really gave that teeth were the 14th and 15th amendments,” Foy told CNN. “Although we have Title IX and the Equal Pay Act, (these are just) laws that have no teeth if they don’t have a constitutional anchor.”
This isn’t the first time Virginia lawmakers have attempted to pass the ERA. Last year, a committee in the Virginia House of Delegates refused to take up the measure, the Washington Post reported, and another panel in the state senate voted against it “with all the no votes cast by men.”