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Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington, Chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life ActivitiesYouTube/Screenshot

WASHINGTON, D.C. (LifeSiteNews) — The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has issued a strongly worked letter to U.S. senators urging them to oppose any measures to advance the so-called Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) of 1972, which the bishops warn would likely require federal funding of abortion and be used to impose pro-LGBT policies on many aspects of social life in the country. 

The letter comes as the Senate Judiciary committee opened hearings on the failed amendment this past Tuesday. Three times the discussion was interrupted by left-wing advocates who shouted for women’s “rights.”  

The ERA will be used to advance abortion 

Declaring unequivocally their stance against the ERA on pro-life grounds, among other reasons, the bishops stated in a Feb. 27 letter, “One consequence of the ERA would be the likely requirement of federal funding for abortions. 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. Both supporters and opponents of abortion believe that the federal ERA would have this effect, as well as restrain the ability of federal and state governments to enact other measures regulating abortion, such as third-trimester or partial birth abortion bans, parental consent, informed consent, conscience-related exemptions, and other provisions.” 

READ: Pro-life leaders warn: Equal Rights Amendment is actually ‘Everything Related to Abortion Act’ 

The bishops pointed out that the open acknowledgment the ERA is intended to advance abortion marks one difference in the more recent debate on the amendment in contrast to prior attempts to deny such an intention.  

They wrote, “While in the early years of the ERA debate some considered these abortion threats to be remote or ‘scare tactics,’ abortion advocates in recent years have freely admitted that they intend to use the ERA to litigate such abortion claims and anticipate that such cases would be successful. Many pro-ERA campaigns and organizations claim that codifying Roe v. Wade (and going further than Roe) is one of the purposes of the ERA and is exactly what is intended by ‘equality’ for women … Some promoters of the ERA have boldly celebrated and advocated for the ERA precisely because of its ability to overturn abortion laws throughout the country.” 

Detailing the way in which states like New Mexico have struck down their own “Hyde Amendment” restrictions on abortion funding based on state adopted ERAs, the bishops observed, “It is thus argued that sexual equality, as embodied in the ERA, would encompass a constitutional right to abortion. As Roe v. Wade was seen as vulnerable (and has now been overturned in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization precisely because the former was not grounded in the Constitution), proponents were very clear that the ERA is needed, in their view, to ensure abortion access and knock down current pro-life laws.” 

The bishops then cited several prominent pro-abortion groups that have stated they believe the ERA will either codify abortion into the Constitution or allow judges to strike down abortion bans across the country. 

The Alice Paul Institute has said, “If the ERA is ratified it would codify into law … Roe v. Wade.” NARAL Pro-Choice America has stated: “With its ratification, the ERA would reinforce the constitutional right to abortion by clarifying that the sexes have equal rights, which would require judges to strike down anti-abortion laws because they violate both the constitutional right to privacy and sexual equality.” NOW declared: “ … an ERA — properly interpreted — could negate the hundreds of laws that have been passed restricting access to abortion care … a powerful ERA should recognize and prohibit that most harmful of discriminatory actions.” 

The ERA and the LGBT agenda 

The U.S. Catholic bishops also objected to the ERA because it would be used to impose pro-LGBT policies — in the name of prohibiting discrimination — on faith-based and conscientious objectors, affecting many aspects of public social life within the country. 

“Advocates have argued that laws forbidding sex discrimination also forbid discrimination based on ‘sexual orientation,’ ‘gender identity,’ and other categories,” the bishops wrote. They pointed out that in 2020, the House Judiciary Committee stated, “The ERA’s prohibition against discrimination ‘on account of sex’ could be interpreted to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.” Decrying the use of the amendment for such an interpretation, the bishops declared, “The consequences of how this is interpreted would impact how Americans must treat and speak about gender in public schools at every level, hospitals, government workplaces, social welfare agencies, and more.” 

Confirming that such an interpretation is intended by progressive political activists, the bishops cited NOW, which said, “The ERA would require strict scrutiny in challenges to the many state laws that deny LGBTQIA persons equal access to public accommodations, permit discrimination in housing, employment discrimination, credit and retail services, jury service and educational programs, among others.” 

The bishops warned that the amendment would have far-reaching consequences that would upend well-established public policy and place women and children in grave danger. “The result could be a radical restructuring of settled societal expectations with respect to sexual difference and privacy,” they wrote.  

Detailing the potential upheaval of social norms and the opening of the door to sexual assault and harassment, the bishops stated, “The ERA could be asserted as a basis for arguing that school athletics and dormitories, and sleeping quarters in many prisons, must abandon current single-sex participation and residency criteria regardless of the privacy interests of other participants and residents.” 

“Similarly, locker rooms, showers, and restrooms in public facilities would arguably no longer be reserved for members of a single sex. This might not only be true with regard to persons who self-identify as transgender, but across the board for both sexes, since sex separation could be scrutinized on the same level as racial segregation. This would apply to a broad range of public institutions, including K-12 schools, colleges, universities, libraries, parks, hospitals, courthouses, prisons, townhalls, social welfare agencies, and government workplaces.”  

The bishops also highlighted the potential threat to freedom of speech, noting that the amendment could be used “as a basis for compelling people’s speech, such as to conform to ‘preferred pronouns.’”  

Additionally, they noted, “The ERA could bolster the claim that public social services devoted to the most vulnerable of women, including homeless and domestic abuse shelters, must admit men. Healthcare workers in public facilities could be forced to provide, and taxpayers made to pay for, ‘gender transition’ procedures, including on children.” 

The illegality of the ERA 

Independent of the above moral and social objections to the amendment, the bishops pointed out that ERA has long been a “dead” proposal because it failed to attain ratification by the states within the required time limit when it it was first proposed in 1972. 

READ: Experts tell US Senate the pro-abortion Equal Rights Amendment is legally dead  

“Among the defects are that the amendment was not ratified by the requisite number of states in the seven-year time frame that Congress prescribed for its ratification and that some states rescinded their ratifications prior to the deadline,” the bishops outlined. “That deadline has been ruled valid by federal courts on more than one occasion, the most recent of which currently has an appeal pending which would be imprudent (and likely ultimately ineffectual) for Congress to attempt to preempt.” 

In 2020, the state of Virginia attempted to “ratify” the 1972 ERA, claiming it had thereby brought the number of states needed for an amendment to the Constitution to the required 38 (3/4 super-majority). However, not only had the deadline for ratification passed, but other states had rescinded their ratification before that deadline. Because of this, in 2020, the federal Archivist, who is charged by Congress with announcing and certifying new amendments, refused to publish or certify the purported amendment. 

In light of such legal obstacles, the bishops stated, “It is extremely doubtful that ‘ratifications’ after the deadline have any legal effect, with or without the retroactive blessing of Congress. Also disputed is the effect of rescissions that were passed by at least four states before the deadline. With these rescissions, and the now-passed deadline, Virginia’s eventual legislative action in 2020 could not be the ‘38th ratification.’” 

In 2020, the three states to most recently vote for the ratification of the ERA — Virginia, Illinois, and Nevada — sought a writ of mandamus in the D.C. District Court to compel the Archivist to certify and publish the amendment. However, the court dismissed the lawsuit, concluding that “the certification demand[ed] from the Archivist has no legal effect,” and that the states therefore suffered no “concrete injury.” The judgment was subsequently appealed to the D.C. Circuit, where it currently sits.