SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — An Illinois House committee has set up a historic floor vote to become the 37th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, but the sponsor said Wednesday that he doesn't have enough votes for approval yet.
Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat, said he is still working with friendly Republicans to persuade members of the GOP to vote in favor of ratifying the amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The ERA, first proposed in 1972, guarantees equal rights for all citizens regardless of sex. Ratification requires the assent of 38 states, but there's some legal debate over whether it's too late for additional states to join those that acted years earlier.
The Illinois House Human Services committee approved the amendment 7-5 Wednesday along party lines, sending it to the floor for a vote.
The measure, which has been bandied about in Illinois since it failed before what was then thought to be a 1982 deadline, has taken on special emphasis as an election-year issue.
Lang, the deputy majority leader in the House, called out its opponents as anti-women, while Democratic governor candidate J.B. Pritzker called on Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner to "get off the sidelines" and encourage House Republicans to vote for the amendment.
"You can cloak this in any type of language you wish, but in the end a 'no' vote is a vote against women," Lang said.
Those opposed argue that passing the amendment would give women unrestricted access to abortion. Anna Allgaier, from Students for Life of America, said the Equal Rights Amendment's restrictions on gender-specific laws would prevent lawmakers from regulating abortion, a medical procedure specific to women.
"This is purely about pushing an extreme abortion agenda," Allgaier told lawmakers last week. "Abortion hurts women and in turn this legislation does the same."
Republican Rep. Steve Andersson of Geneva took issue with that argument calling it "a lie" that continues to prevent meaningful discussion about the amendment with his fellow Republicans.
"As we clarify these lies, and show them that's what they are, I look forward to more and more Republicans coming out for this bill," Andersson said.
The amendment was first proposed more than four decades ago. Illinois lawmakers in both chambers have approved the ERA but never in the same year. The Senate endorsed it in 1972 and 2014, the House in 1975 and 2003.
The Senate approved the amendment 43-12 in April.
Illinois was one of the 15 states not to ratify before the original 1982 deadline. But proponents argue there's precedent that makes such a deadline moot. The push to ratify took center stage once more after Nevada voted to ratify the amendment last year.
Ironically, voters added an ERA to the Illinois Constitution in 1970, guaranteeing equal protection of the laws regardless of sex. It does not apply to U.S. law, however.