Georgia Republican senator pulls support of Equal Rights Amendment

State Sen. Matt Brass, R-Newnan, asked to have his name removed as a co-sponsor of a resolution that would ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. PHOTO / JASON GETZ

State Sen. Matt Brass, R-Newnan, asked to have his name removed as a co-sponsor of a resolution that would ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. PHOTO / JASON GETZ

A Republican state senator asked to have his name removed from a resolution that would add an Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, saying its passage might lead to more abortions.

State Sen. Matt Brass of Newnan told colleagues Tuesday that in the days since he signed on to a bipartisan effort to ratify the amendment, he heard from constituents concerned that the legislation would overturn laws that limit access to abortion.

Supporters of the amendment said all the measure would do is guarantee equal rights regardless of sex.

Anti-abortion activists say that states that have passed equal rights language have used it to argue that abortions cannot legally be treated differently than any other medical procedure — including restricting the use of federal money or requiring parents to be notified when a minor gets an abortion.

Brass was one of eight Republican senators — and one of six men — to sign on to Senate Resolution 66 last week. He said women and men should be equally protected by the U.S. Constitution, but he also said he was "ignorant" about the history of the proposed amendment.

“Many believe this legislation could be used to remove the protections for the unborn,” he said. “I don’t know if any of that’s true. But I’m not willing to risk any living breathing humans’ lives to find out.”

In court filings, the Women’s Law Project and the abortion rights advocate group Planned Parenthood say Pennsylvania’s Equal Rights Amendment to its state constitution prohibits any statutes that restrict federal Medicaid money from paying for the procedure.

It’s not the first time Planned Parenthood has sued to increase access to abortions. The New Mexico Supreme Court in 1998 ruled in favor of the abortion rights group, determining that the Equal Rights Amendment to that state’s constitution doesn’t allow it to prohibit public money be used to perform “medically necessary” abortions.

In Georgia, abortions are illegal after a woman is 20 weeks pregnant. Medicaid, which is the public health care program for the poor and disabled, can only be used to pay for an abortion if a pregnancy is the result of incest or rape or threatens the life of the mother.

Joshua Edmonds, the executive director of the Georgia Life Alliance, said he believes adding the amendment to the U.S. Constitution would lead to all laws limiting access to abortion being overturned and allow “abortion on demand.”

Edmonds’ group was one of 17 local and national organizations that signed a letter sent to lawmakers Tuesday urging them not to pursue ratification of the amendment.

“ERA would have a deep effect on abortion in the sense that it would constitutionalize Roe (v. Wade) and mandate access to abortion under the equal rights amendment,” Edmonds said.

But state Sen. Jen Jordan, an attorney and Atlanta Democrat, said some states have interpreted the amendment would require Medicaid to pay for any an abortion only if a doctor determines it is "medically necessary."

“If a doctor makes a determination there is a serious health consequence for a woman during pregnancy, they have to write a letter and have it certified under oath that it is medically necessary,” she said. “There is no way ‘abortion on demand’ is going to happen.”

State Sens. Renee Unterman of Buford and Nan Orrock of Atlanta, a Republican and Democrat, respectively, filed companion legislation in the Senate last week that would ratify the equal rights amendment that was approved by Congress in the 1970s.

The effort is part of a national movement in support of adding a guarantee of equal rights regardless of sex to the Constitution. Georgia is one of several states where advocates are working to ratify the amendment. Efforts in Virginia stalled last month, but activists in Arizona have started buying billboards supporting the ratification.

Last year, Illinois became the 37th state to ratify the amendment. Thirty-eight are needed.

The move from Brass comes after conservative radio host Erick Erickson of News 95.5 and AM 750 WSB on Friday encouraged his supporters to send Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugansoccer balls, saying Georgia Republicans needed to "grow a pair."

Dugan, a Carrollton Republican, said last week that he was researching the issue to make sure it wouldn’t have any unintended consequences on other laws that have been passed in the nearly 50 years since the constitutional amendment went to states for ratification.

"Whew! Looks like we've killed the ERA in Georgia," Erickson wrote on Twitter later that day. "Thanks to my listeners for springing into action."

For years, Democratic senators in Georgia have introduced resolutions that would ratify the equal rights amendment. And, for years, the proposal has struggled to gain traction.

Brass said concerns about allowing increased access to and public funding of abortions will ultimately keep the resolution from passing the Republican-controlled Legislature this year.

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