Editor's note: This column was co-authored by Victoria Cobb, President of The Family Foundation.
Phyllis Schlafly was right when she warned against The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the Constitution. One woman predicted the ERA’s dire consequences – and nearly single-handedly led the revolution to stop it. The ERA contains seemingly innocuous language about equal rights for women, however, it would result in dangerous consequences, including enshrining a Constitutional right to an abortion, up until the moment of birth, and funded by taxpayers.
When the ERA currently being considered by Congress was first introduced in 1972, few people were thinking about how it would affect the unborn. Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, the Supreme Court cases that created a “right” to abortion on demand at all stages, was still a year away.
The ERA met its match in Phyllis Schlafly. She confounded those who disagreed with her and deserved the reputation of being tough as nails. She was, in fact, a homemaker and mother of six children who authored dozens of books and earned a law degree.
Even though the ERA was supported by presidents of both parties, Phyllis sent all her opponents home in defeat, and prompted five states to rescind their approval of the abortion-granting Constitutional Amendment. (She is also one of the handful of people that made sure at least one party’s platform, the Republican Party, has been pro-life since 1980.)
Mrs. Schlafly was prescient about equal rights amendments causing damage. State equal rights amendments have already been used as a legal tool to require forced abortion funding by taxpayers. In 1986, a Connecticut court struck down a restriction on abortion funding, finding that, “since only women become pregnant, discrimination against pregnancy by not funding abortion when it is medically necessary and when all other medical expenses are paid by the state for both men and women is sex oriented discrimination.” That court proceeded to compel taxpayers to fund abortions, “The court enjoins the defendant commissioner from enforcing said regulation and orders that the defendants pay for the costs of all medically necessary abortions.”
In 1998, New Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled similarly that the ERA mandates taxpayer funding for abortions: “New Mexico's Equal Rights Amendment requires a searching judicial inquiry to determine whether the Department's rule prohibiting state funding for certain medically necessary abortions denies Medicaid-eligible women equality of rights under law. We conclude from this inquiry that the Department's rule violates New Mexico's Equal Rights Amendment because it results in a program that does not apply the same standard of medical necessity to both men and women.”
If the ERA is adopted and used to secure abortion as a constitutional right, it will mean not only the elimination of popular riders like the Hyde amendment, which protects taxpayers from funding abortion, it would also allow for the elimination of common-sense and compassionate restrictions on abortion like partial birth abortion bans, parental and informed consent laws, and conscience protections.
Polling shows that Americans are not on board with this no-holds-barred abortion agenda. For example, a 2020 Marist poll found that 60% do not want their tax dollars used to pay for abortions and 70% would limit abortion to – at most – the first three months of pregnancy. In fact, the general trend in several polls is for greater restrictions on abortion – not less, particularly after the first month of pregnancy. For example, Gallup found that only 28% think abortion should be legal in the second trimester, and that number drops to 13% in the third trimester.
Phyllis Schlafly fought for all women – born and unborn. If proponents of the ERA were really interested in equal rights for women, they would consider the rights of unborn baby girls aborted each year in the United States because they are girls. And Congress should reject this needless and dangerous legislation that would open the flood gates to abortion without any restriction, at taxpayer expense.