New York Moves to Add Reproductive Rights, Equality to State's Constitution

·3 min read

(Bloomberg Government) -- New York lawmakers on Friday took the first step toward codifying reproductive rights into the state’s constitution in response to the US Supreme Court’s abortion ruling.

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The legislature passed a measure (S. 51002) to expand the list of classes protected by the state’s constitution. The broad equal rights language expands those classes to include women making decisions about pregnancy, pregnancy outcomes, and reproductive health care.

New York lawmakers passed legislation in 2019 to enshrine Roe’s protections and guarantee access to an abortion. But Democrats backing the amendment said adding the protections to the Constitution would provide additional safeguards.

“With these enumerations, this amendment guarantees a constitutional right to reproductive healthcare for any individual in the state of New York,” Senate Democrats said in a news release after the measure passed their chamber.

If the broad equal rights proposal survives its next steps, voters as soon as next year would get a say on barring discrimination on a host of other categories including race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, disability, creed, religion, or sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. It aims to prohibit discrimination that results from the actions of state government, corporations or institutions, according to the bill text.

“It was no longer a kind of let’s argue about semantics,” state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D) said speaking to the news media following the bill’s passage in the Senate. “It was more about let’s get it done to send a message, not only to New Yorkers who expect to have their freedoms protected, but also again, to lead on the state level to let people know that state legislatures really have power and we need to exert that power in order to protect our residents.”

The action comes after the high court in a 5-4 decision June 24 overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established abortion rights.

Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) called the special legislative session June 24 to protect “the rights of New Yorkers to make decisions about their own bodies,” which she said were threatened by the high court ruling.

The proposed change received pushback from Republicans.

The New York State Catholic Conference also opposed the bill.

“Unfortunately, this bill solidifies the message that New York has been sending women for some time now: Abortion is positive, empowering, and the key to success. This couldn’t be further from the truth,” said Kristen Curran, state Catholic Conference director of government relations in a Friday statement. “New York State should be pouring resources into helping women and families, not promoting abortion through limitless funding, advertisements, and splashy legislation.”

The state Senate passed the amendment 49 to 14, and the Assembly passed it 98 to 43.

The amendment still must be approved by another session of the legislature. If that happens in 2023, the question could go on the ballot as soon as that fall.

To contact the reporter on this story: Keshia Clukey in Albany, N.Y. at kclukey@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Katherine Rizzo at krizzo@bgov.com; Fawn Johnson at fjohnson@bloombergindustry.com; Meghashyam Mali at mmali@bloombergindustry.com

(Updated to clarify the amendment’s language)

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