By Will Hall, Message Editor
BATON ROUGE (LBM) – Sen. Beth Mizell, a member of the First Baptist Church in Franklinton, helped to defeat ratiﬁcation of the Equal Rights Amendment, offering a passionate argument “as a woman, as a mother, as a grandmother” from the state Senate ﬂoor for why she was voting “no” on a bill calling for amending the U.S. Constitution.
In 1972 the U.S. Congress sent the ERA to the states for ratiﬁcation, needing 38 legislatures to pass the measure “within seven years of its submission by the Congress,” but subsequently extending the deadline to June 1982.
The initiative fell three states short during the original timeframe, and then during the three-year extension the Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, South Dakota and Tennessee legislatures rescinded their previous ratiﬁcations. Since then the legislatures of Nevada (2017) and Illinois (2018) ratiﬁed the ERA, reviving legal discussions about whether the ﬁve rescinding actions meant the effort was actually even further short of the needed 38 states, and even if the expiration of the original deadline meant the state count started over from zero.
Moreover, groups have expanded the original statement in the ERA, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex,” to claim the amendment confers an absolute right to abortion. Likewise, advocates for transgender and gender ﬂuid rights claim the ERA statement includes their groups.
Mizell made her objections to the resolution being offered by Sen. J.P. Morrell, New Orleans, simply on “one aspect of the discussion,” expressing speciﬁc concern about “the connection with abortion in the ERA.”
“In 1988, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that the ERA made it unconstitutional for the state Medicaid program to refuse to fund abortions if procedures sought by men such as prostate surgery were funded,” she said. “Thus the ERA forces citizens in New Mexico to fund abortions through their tax dollars.”
Mizell also pointed to “something very similar” in Connecticut.
“This is just one aspect. There are lots of points we could discuss,” she reasoned. “But I am standing here as a woman in Louisiana that 100 years ago could not have voted, and today I am a state senator.”
“I believe I have the right to accomplish what I set out for,” Mizell stated, referring to the rights she enjoys now that a woman did not possess then. “I really look hard at what rights I’m lacking that would allow me to do something I can’t do right now,” she said in contrast to Morrell’s argument for “the urgent need” to ratify the ERA.
“I ﬁnd the tradeoff of what this ERA amendment would allow to come into Louisiana does not match ‘the bargain,’” being offered she said. “So I’m asking you to join me today in voting ‘no.’ Mizell closed by clarifying that if a future version of the ERA contained “an abortion-neutrality clause” she could support that form of the ERA. In lieu of that deficiency, she urged lawmakers to consider the negative consequences the ERA in its curren form “would allow to come into our state.
Mizell closed by clarifying that if a future version of the ERA contained “an abortion-neutrality clause” she could support that form of the ERA. In lieu of that deficiency, she urged lawmakers to consider the negative consequences the ERA in its current form “would allow to come into our state.”
Morrell did not respond to Mizell’s call for “abortion-neutrality” language, but instead countered her appeal to conservatives in the Senate by pointing to the “history of the ERA” and the fact that “the original supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment were the Republican Party led by then President Richard Nixon and then President Gerald Ford.”
He argued the ERA was a “bi-partisan issue” that “predates the entire abortion debate,” claiming the abortion “spectre” was merely an attempt to hijack the debate and misdirect the discussion from a very simple aim “to establish that everyone is equal regardless of gender.”
[The actual resolution uses the biological term “sex” and not the contemporary use of “gender” with its implications of self-identity with regard to sexuality].
Morrell also reasoned that “Just the gesture of showing that as a state, we believe everyone should be treated equal would be a tremendous message in itself.”
When the votes were tallied, the resolution was defeated 9-26. Mizell was joined by ﬁve other Louisiana Baptist senators in opposing the ERA: Jim Fannin, Ebenezer, Jonesboro; Ryan Gatti, Cypress, Benton; Gerald Long, Calvary, Alexandria; Neil Riser, First Columbia; and, Gary Smith, First Norco. Two Louisiana Baptist senators supported the ERA: Wesley Bishop, Franklin Avenue, New Orleans, and, Jay Luneau, Calvary, Alexandria.