Arizona House Democrats fail to force vote on the Equal Rights Amendment

PHOENIX — A bid by House Democrats to force a vote on the Equal Rights Amendment was sidelined Tuesday by Republicans who claimed it is unnecessary and a scheme to enshrine abortion rights in the U.S. Constitution.

Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley, D-Tucson, demanded that a measure to ratify the proposed amendment be brought to the floor for a vote. The unusual motion became necessary, she said, because House Speaker Rusty Bowers refused to assign her resolution for ratification to a committee for a hearing.

Hannley, however, was outmaneuvered by Majority Leader Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, who proposed a substitute motion to table the issue.

Each of the 31 Republicans in the 60-member chamber voted to support the alternative — but not before more than an hour of floor speeches about the ERA.

There also were questions about the claim that a vote would make Arizona the 38th state to ratify the amendment, first proposed by Congress in 1972, effectively putting it into the Constitution. Issues range from a time limit for ratification set by Congress having expired years ago, to the fact that five states have rescinded their own ratification votes.

But much of the focus of those who voted to sideline a vote on the ERA was on abortion.

“This is their way of saying that abortion should be legal,” said Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, about supporters. “No one should have the right to kill a child, an infant, a baby that has not been born.”

That claim did not go over well with ERA supporters watching from the gallery who responded with audible hisses. Speaker Pro-Tem T.J. Shope warned he would clear out spectators if they persisted.

Hannley said foes are looking for excuses, saying all the amendment does is guarantee that “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex.”

“You’ll note that the ERA includes no mention of military service for women,” she said. “It includes no mention of gender-neutral bathrooms and no mention of abortion.

“So let’s dispense with those erroneous arguments from the 1970s and focus on what the ERA is really about,” Hannley said.

That, she said, involves things like equal pay for equal work. She cited figures on how much women of various races make in comparison to each dollar earned by men.

Udall said there already are laws prohibiting pay discrimination, and that any disparities could be based on the career choices made by women.

Rep. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, cited a 1998 ruling by the New Mexico Supreme Court. It struck down a state law that prohibited the state from paying for abortions for Medicaid-eligible women except in certain limited circumstances. Calling pregnancy a “gender-linked condition,” the justices cited that state’s own Equal Rights Amendment to void the law.

Barto said there has been a similar ruling in Connecticut and another case is pending in Pennsylvania. “It really is all about abortion,” she said.

Petersen said he was voting to deny a debate on the ERA for “every single baby girl that was saved by a pro-life bill.”

Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, said constituents in his district don’t want the ERA.

But Rep. Randy Friese, D-Tucson, said Republicans did not want a full debate on the merits of the ERA, as shown by the unwillingness to give it a hearing where people could come to the Capitol and testify.

This was the second bid this year to force a vote on the ERA. A similar effort to bring the issue to the Senate floor failed last month.

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