The amendment now needs to be passed by the newly elected legislature next year before it can go to voters – which could happen as early as 2023, but more likely in 2024.
Governor Kathy Hochul, who added the amendment to the agenda for the “special session” of the Legislature early Friday morning, said the amendment is “the boldest step” New York can take to guarantee access to abortion.
“This is part of our fight to protect women’s reproductive freedoms here in New York State,” she told reporters during an afternoon briefing. “This [amendment] will protect reproductive health in New York State for generations to come.
New York already has one of the strongest abortion rights laws in the country: State lawmakers have codified protections under deer in 2019 and approved new laws to protect abortion providers and patients from out-of-state litigation in the final days of the 2022 session that ended in early June.
Abortion rights advocates, however, argued that enshrining it in the constitution would make it even more difficult to overthrow it if the political leadership of the state were to change and seek to take away the rights.
The amendment approved Friday would also add new protected classes to the existing Equal Protection Clause of the state constitution — which prohibits discrimination based on a person’s race, color, creed, or religion — to prohibit intentional government discrimination based on race, national origin, age, disability, or gender, including sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, pregnancy, pregnancy outcomes and reproductive health care and self-reliance.
These protected classes would be placed on an equal footing with creed and religion, but the proposal states that language must not be “interpreted to interfere with, limit or deny the civil rights of any person on the basis of any other characteristic identified in this section.”
Critics had raised concerns that previous versions of the proposal would relegate religion to a lower protected class status. For years, the “creed or religion” debate had stalled progress in Albany.
Senator Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat who has long pushed for a state equal rights amendment, said “the equal rights language of the 1930s in our state Constitution awaits a long time ago an update”.
“Women have waited too long to be included, but so have LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, Latinx people and anyone who has been discriminated against based on characteristics beyond their control,” a- she said in a statement. “Furthermore, with the annulment by the Court of Roe vs. WadeNew York provides the strongest protection for abortion and other reproductive care by enshrining these rights in our Constitution.
Krueger and Assemblywoman Rebecca Seawright (D-Manhattan) introduced new versions of the “equality amendment” earlier this week in hopes of advancing the proposal in the special session.
Seawright, a Manhattan Democrat and longtime Assembly sponsor of the proposal, dedicated his remarks to mentor and former employer Sarah Weddington, an attorney who successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe vs. Wade.
“As a beacon of our future, the New York constitution must reflect our broad conception of justice, equal rights and protections against discrimination,” she said in a speech. “This is the first step in giving voters the right to make the decision.”
Sen. Shelley Mayer (D-Yonkers) called it “an incredibly important step forward right now.”
“These essential parts of our identity must be protected in the state constitution, and in particular the fact that the right to reproductive health services – including abortion and contraception – are defined in the word ‘sex'” , she said in a short speech. “Women and men from New York and across the nation have stood up to say that we must do what we must do to protect these essential rights.”
Mayer said she wants every state to consider similar proposals, “because ultimately our sisters in Alabama and Louisiana and other states are going to seek justice here in New York for rights they do not have any more. .”
But Kristen Curran, director of government relations for the New York State Catholic Conference, challenged the resolution, saying “elected officials should stop promoting abortion as a woman’s best and only choice and stand focus instead on genuine support for women, children, and families.
Although Albany lawmakers proposed a series of abortion-related bills late in the session last month in anticipation of the High Court’s overturning deeran eleventh-hour effort to secure abortion rights in the New York constitution initially failed after talks broke down over the “creed or religion” issue.
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins told reporters that the Supreme Court’s decision last week heightened the urgency for lawmakers to finally move the proposal forward after years of debate in Albany. She noted that Friday’s vote took place on the anniversary of when the abortion law came into effect in New York more than 50 years ago.