The resolution sponsored by seven male Republican lawmakers says Congress' deadline for ratification of the gender-equality amendment passed 40 years ago and is no longer valid. If the resolution is approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature, North Dakota would join Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, Tennessee and South Dakota as states that ratified the amendment and later withdrew their support. The other states rescinded their support by 1979, though it's not clear their withdrawal was valid.
Linda Coberly, chairwoman of the national ERA Coalition Legal Task Force, said she believes North Dakota is the first state to seek to withdraw its ratification since the 1970s. Several states — mostly in the South — that didn't ratify the amendment in its early years are looking at doing it now, she said.
"I think (North Dakota) is very much in not keeping with what legislatures across the country are looking at," Coberly said. Rep. Chuck Damschen, a lead sponsor, said no outside group influenced the measure . He denied that it is "anti-woman" or "anti-women's rights."
"Everybody is equal under the Constitution already," he said. Damschen argues that so much time has passed that North Dakota's support is no longer valid. His resolution cites a 1979 deadline set by Congress for the amendment to achieve three-fourths support in the states.
"If this process continues and is somehow allowed to succeed, it will make a mockery of time limitations," he said. Damschen and other supporters believe those still pushing ERA ratification want legal protections that could affect everything from abortions to bathrooms. And they say that goes beyond what the state endorsed when it was one of 35 states to ratify the amendment — three states short of what was needed.
Illinois and Nevada have ratified the amendment in the past two years, bringing the number of states who have to 37. Backers are now looking to other states to get the ERA past the threshold needed for enshrinement in the Constitution. A push to ratify the amendment in Virginia failed by a single vote in February.
Toni Van Pelt, president of the National Organization for Women, said North Dakota's move is clearly in response to the growing momentum to ratify the amendment and called the state's effort a "fruitless exercise."
Coberly agreed. "Historically efforts to rescind ratifications have not been found effective," she said. "It's not something you can take back." The North Dakota resolution sailed through the House earlier this month by a vote of 67-21. All eight Democratic women in the chamber voted against it. One Republican woman, Shannon Roers Jones, also voted against it. Only 30 of North Dakota's 141 legislators are women.
Next week the resolution is likely to go to the Senate, where the GOP also wields supermajority power. The Senate committee that heard testimony on the bill gave it a "do not pass" recommendation on Friday.
West Fargo Republican Rep. Austen Schauer, another supporter of the bill, told fellow representatives that the ERA movement "supports expanding abortion rights, overturning abortion restrictions, redefining gender, flipping state legislatures from red to blue and electing feminist candidates."
Rep. Gretchen Dobervich, a Fargo Democrat who voted against the resolution, called it an insult. "It's coming from a place of fear — fear of transgender people wanting to use their bathroom," she said.
Linda Thorson, the state director for the conservative religious group Concerned Women for America, said the ERA would expand abortion rights and a "genderless agenda" under the guise of women's rights.
It also would eliminate the exemption of women from the military draft and "compulsory front-line combat," she said. "Just as rules are rules, deadlines are deadlines and the ERA's deadline came and went," Thorson added.
Coberly and Van Pelt said ERA opponents have used the same arguments for decades. They say two bills await action in Congress that would extend the deadline for ratification. The anti-ERA resolution comes after North Dakota legislators passed a resolution in 2007 encouraging a recommitment to final passage of the ERA nationally. None of the male or female lawmakers who sponsored that bipartisan resolution are still around.
This story has been corrected to show that a Senate committee heard testimony on the bill and gave it a 'do not pass' recommendation, not a House one.