As a pro-life Republican who also was a chief advocate for passage of the ERA in Illinois, I read with interest the opinion authored by Cathy Herrod about the Equal Rights Amendment. Herrod’s opinion, unfortunately, just perpetuated a more than 47-year-old myth about the ERA.
Herrod’s opinion states that the law of discrimination is settled, and women have equal rights under the Constitution with men. She even refers to a Supreme Court case to support her proposition. However, it seems she failed to read it. Had she done so, she would have discovered that the court applied, in the very case she cites, a different, lesser standard to challenges for the rights of women than is applied to other protected classes, like race. While arguing that women are equal under the Constitution, Herrod refers to a case that establishes that women’s constitutional protections are, in the eyes of the Supreme Court, of a lesser class. Moreover, one of the most conservative Supreme Court Justices, Justice Antonin Scalia himself, made the issue very clear. He stated: “Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t.”
Herrod then goes on to recycle one of the most common falsehoods of the ERA debate. That the ERA would allow unfettered access to public funding for abortions. This has been held up as a truth by those opposed to the ERA. However, no court of law has actually said that. The courts only state the obvious, that you can’t have two “medical necessity” standards, one for men and one for women. Here’s an example; would it be fair to pass a law that says, for men “medical necessity” includes treatment for testicular cancer treatment, but for women “medical necessity” does not include cervical cancer treatment? No, the issue isn’t the cervix versus the testes, it’s the cancer! So, if a woman has a legitimate threat to her life or health and the treatment is deemed medically necessary, that treatment must be covered. No court has in any way suggested that elective abortions (those that aren’t medically necessary for the mother’s life or health) must be publicly funded. That is all those cases say. Nothing more. There are NO cases that hold that the ERA requires public funding for elective abortions, because it doesn’t.
Next, Herrod takes the dramatic step of attempting to explain that there is no wage gap between men and women. It appears we have now taken a trip back to the 1950s because according to Herrod, “Women typically work fewer hours than men; they choose different education and training; they choose different career paths… .” This is despite many studies comparing women’s income to men’s that conclude the opposite. What an incredibly demeaning and sexist statement. Quite frankly, if anyone in 2019 accepts such an outrageous statement, that person is beyond help.
But for those of you who are still concerned, take succor in historical fact. During the last 47-plus years, 25 states have adopted constitutions or constitutional amendments providing that equal rights under the law shall not be denied because of sex. Many of these provisions use the language of the ERA. In not one single state, in the history of our country, have those provisions been used to allow elective abortions. Not one. Don’t allow fear of something that has never happened fool you into opposing something that will elevate women’s rights to where they have always belonged: true equality.
Our country needs the ERA.
Steven A. Andersson, a Republican, is a retired member of the Illinois House of Representatives, an Illinois commissioner for human rights and an advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment.