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Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith Calls Equal Rights Amendment a ‘Divisive’ Ploy for Abortion Rights

Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith speaks at a podium with Republican women behind her
U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, seen here at an October 2020 press conference with other Republican women, opposes the Equal Rights Amendment which says "equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex." She is Mississippi's first woman in Congress and says she fears the ERA would undo abortion prohibitions and expand transgender rights. Photo courtesy U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith.

Mississippi’s first woman senator is decrying renewed efforts to enact the Equal Rights Amendment. The ERA would enshrine equality for women in the U.S. Constitution.

Americans “can always do more to promote equality and end discrimination for all Americans, but the way to do that isn’t through divisive constitutional amendments,” Sen. Hyde-Smith wrote in an anti-ERA column Monday that she co-authored with fellow Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma.

“Clearly, Democrats need a new reason to defend their radical efforts to destroy innocent lives—and they are hiding that cause under the guise of women’s rights,” the senators wrote.

The “divisive” amendment’s proposition consists of the following sentence: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” It contains two other sentences dealing with technical aspects of implementing and enforcing it.

After the 38th state ratified the ERA last year, bringing it to the total it needs to become part of the Constitution, controversy remains over whether or not those ratifications are valid due to sunset clauses that were set to expire in 1979. Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution to remove the ERA’s ratification deadline. All Democrats, including U.S. House Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, voted for the resolution, joined by just four Republicans.

Mississippi’s three Republican members—U.S. House Reps. Steven Palazzo, Trent Kelly and Michael Guest—voted against the resolution.

‘No Deadline On Equality’

In a March 17 statement, the national League of Women Voters celebrated the resolution’s passage.

“Since the 1970s, the League of Women Voters has fought to make the ERA a part of our nation’s Constitution. … The ERA will ensure equal rights for all, regardless of sex, allowing the courts to scrutinize and strike down sex-based discrimination,” the LWV said. “We urge the Senate to follow the House and remove the deadline for the Equal Rights Amendment. There is no deadline on equality.” 

Since the early 1920s, soon after women gained the right to vote under the 19th Amendment, women’s rights groups have worked on an equal rights amendment that would, for the first time, explicitly enshrine protections against discrimination on the basis of sex in the constitution. 

Kamala Harris waves from the door of her plane.
U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith claims President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, seen here, want to expand abortion rights with the ERA. Photo courtesy Vice President Kamala Harris.

Congress first approved the current version of the ERA in 1972. By 1977, lawmakers in 35 states had approved the amendment, putting it just three states shy of the total needed for it to officially become a part of the U.S. constitution. A right-wing revolt against the ERA, led by Phyllis Schlafly, halted the ERA’s momentum for four decades. Schlafly organized conservative women to urge lawmakers to vote against it, telling them it would result in women being drafted for war, take away housewives’ traditional roles and mean that men would be equally as likely to win custody of children in the event of a divorce.

Schlafly also claimed that the ERA would result in same-sex marriage becoming legalized and would mean the end of gendered bathrooms. Under the ERA, Schalfly claimed, men would be free to enter and prey upon women in bathrooms—a precursor to anti-transgender arguments by politicians who claim men will “identify” as women to enter women’s restrooms if transgender people are allowed to use restrooms that correlate with their gender identities.

Hyde-Smith Decries ‘Radical Efforts’

In her letter with Inhofe, Hyde-Smith alludes to her opposition to transgender rights as one of her motives for opposing the ERA’s enactment.

“(W)hile we can always do more to protect women from domestic violence or other gender-based violence, enacting the ERA could actually harm the protections that celebrate the differences between men and women in law–threatening women-only prisons, locker rooms, and Title IX protections for women’s sports, just to name a few,” Hyde-Smith wrote.

Sen. James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, wrote the anti-ERA column with Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith. Photo courtesy U.S. Senate

Since the start of 2021, Republicans across the country have passed a litany of anti-transgender legislation, including in Mississippi, where Gov. Tate Reeves signed a bill earlier this year banning transgender high school students from playing on sports teams that match their gender.

Hyde-Smith and Inhofe’s column also claims that Democrats want to pass the ERA, which in the past had broad cross-partisan support from both Republicans and Democrats, in hopes of overturning anti-abortion policies.

“When President Biden and Vice President Harris were sworn into office, there was a grand celebration by pro-abortion groups,” Hyde-Smith and Inhofe wrote. “They see the Biden-Harris administration as their chance to dramatically expand access to abortion on demand. How? In multiple ways, not the least of which is through the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Recently, House Democrats pushed through a resolution to remove the deadline Congress gave states in 1972 to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.”

Hyde-Smith wrote the column with Inhofe, which she published on her official U.S. Senate page, just weeks after announcing her opposition to a new voting rights bill, the For The People Act, claiming without evidence or explanation that it would undermine women’s equal rights.

“As a woman in Congress right now, I am the beneficiary of the women who fought for women to have the right to vote. This (bill) would undermine all of this,” Hyde-Smith said said of the bill, whose authors aim to make voting more accessible and to limit the ability of state lawmakers to enact new restrictions on voting.

Martha Phillips, the director of diversity and inclusion for the Mississippi League of Women Voters, told the Mississippi Free Press last month that she considered Hyde-Smith’s remarks offensive.

“I think her statement is an insult to women and to African Americans, first of all because she doesn’t say how. She simply says that it is and doesn’t say how. We know that the bill enhances the 19th Amendment and the Voting Rights Act of 1965,” Phillips said.

‘The Dignity of Women And Our Nation’

In her column with Inhofe, Hyde-Smith claims that women do not need the ERA because the Constitution already protects women from state-sanctioned discrimination, even if not explicitly.

“Women are protected from discrimination under the law through the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which says no state shall deny any person within its jurisdiction equal protection under the law. That’s pretty strong—and pretty clear as well,” the senators wrote.

“When Congress first sent the Equal Rights Amendment to the states for ratification, I was a 29-year-old first-time Senate candidate. As a young senator, as now, it was a simple proposition for me—fighting for the ERA was about fighting for the dignity of women and the dignity of our nation,” says President Joe Biden. Photo courtesy President Biden

The 14th Amendment, which provides for equal protection and due process under the law for “citizens of the United States,” became law after its ratification in 1868. But women did not gain the right to vote until more than half a century afterward; sex-based wage discrimination and employment discrimination remained legal for almost 100 years afterward; and discrimination in education remained legal for more than 100 years afterward.

In a White House statement last month after the U.S. House passed the resolution removing the ERA’s deadline, President Joe Biden said “it is long past time that we enshrine the principle of gender equality in our Constitution.

“When Congress first sent the Equal Rights Amendment to the states for ratification, I was a 29-year-old first-time Senate candidate. As a young senator, as now, it was a simple proposition for me—fighting for the ERA was about fighting for the dignity of women and the dignity of our nation.”

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