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House removes ERA ratification deadline, one obstacle to enactment

House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), alongside fellow Congresswomen, speaks at a news conference on the Equal Rights Amendment in Washington on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020. House Democrats on Thursday moved to enshrine the decades-old Equal Rights Amendment into the Constitution, reviving a long-simmering cultural debate over whether the nation’s founding charter should guarantee equal rights to all citizens regardless of sex. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times)
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members of Congress spoke to the media after the House’s vote on Thursday.

WASHINGTON— The US House of Representatives gave the Equal Rights Amendment a temporary new lease on life Thursday by voting to remove a 1982 deadline for ratification by the states.

The vote on a resolution introduced by California Democrat Jackie Speier pushes the issue to the Senate, where Senators Ben Cardin of Maryland and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska have introduced a similar measure.

During debate on the House floor, Republicans leaned on antiabortion and constitutional arguments to oppose the ERA, arguing that enshrining protections for women in the Constitution would mean abortion could not be restricted. Democrats focused on the legality of deadlines and the importance of equal rights.

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‘‘This has nothing to do woth the abortion issue. That is an excuse, not a reason,’’ said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, arguing that women are still paid less than men for similar work and often are shorted on pensions and pregnancy leaves.

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Three-quarters of the states must ratify a proposed amendment for it to be added to the Constitution. With new Democratic majorities in both chambers, the Virginia General Assembly last month met that threshold, becoming the 38th state to ratify the ERA.

Three lawsuits have been filed over the ERA, including one this month by the attorneys general of Virginia, Nevada, and Illinois calling for its addition to the Constitution. A lawsuit opposing ratification was filed in Alabama by the attorneys general of Alabama, Louisiana, and South Dakota.

Another lawsuit supports ratification and was filed in Massachusetts by Equal Means Equal, the Yellow Roses, and Katherine Weitbrecht.

At least one of the legal challenges is expected to end up at the Supreme Court.

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The ERA was first proposed in Congress in 1923, and reintroduced every year until its passage in 1972. The amendment first had a 1979 ratification deadline. That was extended after only 35 states had ratified it by that time. But when 1982 arrived, no further states had ratified the measure.

WASHINGTON POST