Lawmakers are expected to vote this week, potentially Thursday, on removing the expiration date of June 30, 1982, for the Equal Rights Amendment. Proponents say the ERA would “enshrine equality for women” in the Constitution. Penny Nance, president and CEO of Concerned Women for America, joins today’s Daily Signal Podcast to discuss why she—and even some liberal feminists—want to see the ERA stopped. Read the lightly edited interview, posted below, or listen to the podcast:
We also cover these stories:
- President Donald Trump tweets about the case of Roger Stone, an ally for whom prosecutors recommended seven to nine years in prison for witness tampering and lying to Congress.
- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calls out Trump for his words about Stone.
- Three female athletes sue the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference over its policy permitting biological males to compete as girls with biological females in high school sports.
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Rachel del Guidice: We’re joined today on The Daily Signal Podcast by Penny Nance. She is president and CEO of Concerned Women for America, the nation’s largest public policy women’s organization. Penny, thank you so much for joining us today.
Penny Nance: It’s great to be on with you, Rachel.
del Guidice: Well, thanks for being here. So, in January, Virginia passed the Equal Rights Amendment, or the ERA. Before we get started on the nitty-gritty of it, can you briefly go over what the ERA is?
Nance: The history of the ERA is quite interesting. It was originally introduced in 1923 and Alice Paul was pushing it, and interestingly enough, Alice Paul was pro-life. She called abortion the ultimate exploitation of women.
Then it came up again and was reintroduced in 1971, and this time it was actually passed. But it had a very rocky road because at this point … the issue was abortion, not just abortion, but abortion on demand. It’s breaking down state laws, any prohibitions on the issue of abortion.
The ERA passed Congress in 1971, but it failed to meet the 38-state mark within the time limit, within the time frame. And so once the amendment time frame had expired, a few states did pass it and ultimately Virginia passed it, but it was outside the boundaries of the time frame set within the limit.
Let’s remember that during that same time frame when Virginia passed the law, which is just recently, we had three states that wanted to rescind their approval.
So it’s been a very checkered path to the point, on the legal front, that Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg has said twice now that she thinks proponents have to start over because it would be illegal as the way that it is enfolded.
Del Guidice: Well, it’s interesting, your organization, Concerned Women for America, they have a long history with the ERA. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Nance: That’s right. Concerned Women for America started in 1979, and we just had our 40th anniversary and our chairman, Beverly LaHaye, [our] founder, retired.
The whole point of this organization, the early start of this organization was taking the counterpoint because it was very clear in the ’70s and late ’70s, 1979, that if conservative women didn’t speak forth on this issue, the ERA was going to pass and it was going to be detrimental to women and children.
Aside from the abortion issue, Phyllis Schlafly and Beverly LaHaye were out front talking about how this bill would specifically impact laws that were made to protect women. Because, again, it removes the definition of sex, … there cannot be any specific carve-out to protect women. And, at this point, [it] would be used to deny, really, the intrinsic value and dignity and biology of women.
So even back then, Beverly LaHaye and Phyllis Schlafly argue that it impacted Social Security laws, it impacted divorce laws, impacted whether or not women would be eligible for the draft. There were all sorts of laws in which women have special protection because we believe that we need them because we have certain needs and biological needs that deserve respect.
Today we see a whole network of laws and, in fact, about 800 laws that specifically impact women that would be undone by the ERA.
I mean, potentially, you have issues like the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. If women can’t ask for specific protections in the corporate world because we are the givers of life, then what are we doing here?
You also have the issue of women’s sports, and this has been very interesting as we’ve watched this unfold. We have said, at Concerned Women for America, and been joined by self-defined radical feminists to say sex is biological, women deserve special treatment and dignity because of that and it impacts everything from the corporate world but also women’s sports.
So there is a wide variety of laws and policies specifically—and I believe, most importantly, the issue of abortion—that would be very negatively impacted because of the passage of the ERA.
The concerns that we have on the ERA impacting abortion isn’t just something that we’ve made up. We already have proof that the ERA would impact prohibitions on abortion, particularly funding.
We saw in 1996 the Connecticut high court strike down their prohibition on abortion spending based on the state ERA. And then the same thing happened again in 1998 in New Mexico. So we understand that this is an interpretation.
We’ve already seen that communication to NARAL, the National Abortion Rights Action League, to their constituency saying that they need the ERA in order to take down prohibitions on abortion. So this isn’t just something that we’ve conjured up. We already have proof that this would be happening.
Del Guidice: … Going back to what you alluded to about radical feminists even being concerned about the ERA, can you unpack that a little bit more?
Nance: You know, it’s been very interesting, as we work alongside organizations and members of the radical feminist community. And it’s really been an interesting journey. I mean, it’s not people that necessarily agree with us on abortion, but they do feel very strongly on Title IX and these other specific laws that protect women.
So whether it’s a woman that’s incarcerated, a woman in a domestic violence shelter, there’s rules based on the fact that these are women and we need protect them.
But if there’s no definition of sex, … if sex is confused with gender and you’re basically a man or woman based on your feelings, then the protections that we have for women, the same single-sex spaces like domestic violence shelters will have no ability to maintain the protection of the women who need their refuge.
So you’ve seen this just outcry from women who worked hard to pass these sorts of laws—Violence Against Women Act, Title IX, and others—saying, “Wait a minute, what is happening? We are being betrayed by the left.”
So there really is a role break within people that consider themselves on the left and consider themselves not conservative. And you’ve seen this ability for us to work together on a very narrowly-defined range of issues.
Del Guidice: There will likely be a vote in the House this week on the ERA. It’s probably going to be Thursday. This vote is to remove that June 30, 1982, deadline when the ERA expired. And you mentioned this a little bit ago. Why do you think that there is such a push to have this deadline removed?
Nance: It really boils down to the fact that Roe v. Wade was basically decided on using technology, using a trimester system, but modern technology has undone many of the suppositions that the bill was based on. And so they no longer can expect the courts to uphold Roe if it’s actually challenged, and it will be challenged, by the way.
So they suddenly want to change the conversation and make it about the autonomy of women. They want to make it based on a different set of criteria because they can’t win using science anymore.
And then the other piece, of course, is that [President] Donald Trump has appointed 187 lower court judges who are constitutionalists and two Supreme Court judges and so they’re looking at the enfolding of the judiciary branch and they’re concerned about Roe v. Wade moving forward and Doe v. Bolton. And they should be because that law was not based on reality, not based on science, and we have all the proof we need today.
Del Guidice: Proponents of the ERA are saying that it will enshrine equality for women into the Constitution. Is that the case?
Nance: In fact, it does the opposite. It breaks down our ability to protect life. It breaks down our ability to declare that we are of distinct value, that our biology matters, that we need specific protections as women under the law, and [it] impacts about 800 current laws that protect women. So, although it sounds pretty and it’s got a great name, it has the opposite impact of what is being declared by the left.
Del Guidice: You mentioned how there are some radical feminists that you are working with that are very concerned about the ERA. Are there other women on the left who might not fall into that category but are still concerned about the potential results of this becoming law?
Nance: I think this is a great discussion and an important discussion for women all over the ideological spectrum. I mean, you may not be a pro-lifer who believes that life begins at conception and that we should protect life from conception to natural death, but you may be more moderate.
You may actually say, “Well, I don’t support abortion after the first trimester and I don’t want to pay for someone else’s abortion.”
If that’s the feeling —and the vast majority of women in this country fall into either my position or a more moderate position—then the ERA runs completely counter to that. It would impact the court decisions on state prohibitions on abortion funding and late-term abortion.
So it really is a very radical bill and is something that, regardless of if you are conservative or even on the left or are moderate, this has got something in it that offends everyone.
Del Guidice: You mentioned some of the effects of the ERA, but if you were to pick … a couple that concern you, how would the ERA affect women in general?
Nance: I think the most important impact of the ERA would be two-pronged.
The first is the fact that it would impact the ability of states to limit abortion, to limit state funding for abortion, and really would impose abortion on demand anytime, [for] any reason, all paid for by the taxpayer on every single state.
The second is that it impacts laws that impact a network of over 800 laws that were developed to protect women. If there is no reason, if there’s no ability to make law based on sex, biological sex, then how do we argue in favor of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and other Social Security laws and other laws that protect women specifically?
It is really the opposite of helpful to women. And anyone who can take a moment and really kind of come up to speed on it, I think whether you’re on the right, moderate, or left, there’s real reason for concern.
Del Guidice: So Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, recently wrote an article saying that she quoted an email from NARAL in which it said in March 2019 NARAL admitted to supporters that the ERA is about abortion, saying that in order to protect our reproductive freedom today, it’s essential we pass the newly reintroduced bill to ratify the ERA. What is your perspective on this?
Nance: I think it’s really interesting when the left tells you what they really mean. There’s been obfuscation on that issue, but clearly NARAL and others of their ilk want this law in order to take down any state prohibitions on abortion all the way up until birth. They want every state in the United States to have law similar to New York and now Virginia.
So it’s very clear that this is the abortion lobby’s dream and they’re being very honest about it. And so I’m glad they did.
And this isn’t theoretical either because we know that both Connecticut in 1986 and then New Mexico in 1998 used state ERAs to take away the prohibition on abortion funding. So it’s already happened. They just want it to happen on the federal level.
Del Guidice: Hypothetically speaking, if the country were to have the ERA enshrined as a constitutional amendment, what would that look like?
Nance: It would immediately cause the abortion lobby to take on every state prohibition and the many, many laws that the pro-life community and others have worked together to pass—parental notification laws, laws that require a doctor to have admitting privileges at the hospital, 20-week bans. Any other prohibitions on funding would immediately go to court and the court would use the criteria of the ERA in order to strike these down.
We’ve already seen it happen, but we believe strongly that this won’t happen because we … even have Justice [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg agreeing that the time has expired and they need to start over and [add] every single state all over again. And we will fight them state by state and I think they will lose.
Del Guidice: You just mentioned Justice Ginsburg and, actually, in her book “Sex Bias in the U.S. Code,” she mentions that the ERA would include the elimination of Social Security benefits for wives and widows. What’s your perspective on this, too?
Nance: I don’t know if she’s saying that as if it’s a good thing, and I can’t believe that women who consider themselves feminists would consider this a good thing, but it absolutely would have that impact.
In fact, that issue came up back in the late ’70s when Phyllis Schlafly and Beverly LaHaye were fighting the ERA. The issue of Social Security benefits for widows, the issue of forcing women to participate in the draft, and other issues were front center at that point and none of that has changed.
Del Guidice: You mentioned how the ERA would force women to be part of the draft and also, apparently, would force women to be in combat units with men. What is your perspective on this?
Nance: Well, at Concerned Women for America, we are so proud of our women lawyers and we have members who are mothers of military men and women. We have women who are currently serving or have served and we respect that, but we also recognize that the military isn’t a social program.
And so there has to be an ability for the command to draw lines in which only the most qualified can participate, whether it’s special forces or certain units, certain combat missions, whatever that is. So this broad policy in which there can be no distinctions made based on biology, is it safe for other people serving?
Del Guidice: Penny, thank you so much for joining us today on The Daily Signal Podcast.
Nance: Always my honor. Thank you so much. And I, of course, love The Daily Signal and appreciate everything you do.
Del Guidice: Well, thanks for being here.
Read more at Even Liberal Feminists Worry About Equal Rights Amendment, This Leader Says.