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NYS legislature moves on equal rights amendment that includes abortion rights protections

Gov. Kathy Hochul delivers remarks at the Planned Parenthood Day of Action in Albany Jan. 24, 2023.
Mike Groll/Mike Groll/Office of Governor Ka
Gov. Kathy Hochul delivers remarks at the Planned Parenthood Day of Action in Albany Jan. 24, 2023.

The New York State legislature passed an Equal Rights Amendment that would include the right for pregnant people to choose abortion. It comes two days after the 50th anniversary of the landmark US Supreme Court abortion rights decision Roe v Wade, which was overturned last year.

Governor Kathy Hochul, speaking at a rally held by Planned Parenthoods of New York, says it was supposed to be a celebration of half a century of abortion rights in the United States, but the Dobbs decision last summer, overturning Roe, changed all that.

“And all of a sudden, what we came here and rallied about for years, that possibility that someone would touch these rights and unravel them in our lifetime, actually happened,” Hochul said.

Hochul, the first women in New York elected governor, says she’s the first governor in the history of the state to have ever been pregnant.

And she says access to abortion will not be curtailed in the state.

The governor highlighted legislation that would allow pharmacists in New York to offer prescriptions for medication abortions, offer higher Medicaid reimbursement rates for women’s reproductive health services, and the final passage of an equal rights amendment to ensure abortion rights in New York.

“We will enshrine these rights, not just in law, but in the constitution of the State of New York,” Hochul said to applause.

The Senate sponsor of the Equal Rights Amendment, Senator Liz Krueger, says the measure also includes protections for the disabled, elderly and LGBTQ New Yorkers who were not specifically protected under earlier versions of the constitution. The amendment also states that pregnant people cannot face discrimination, regardless of the outcome of their pregnancy, though it does not specifically mention abortion. Senator Krueger says the wording was crafted with the consultation of constitutional law experts to make it as “inclusive as possible”.

“Pregnancy outcomes can mean all kinds of outcomes, it can mean carrying to term with health baby, it can mean miscarriage,” said Kruger. “It can mean ending a pregnancy through abortion.”

If a future Congress and President agree to ban or strictly limit access to abortion through a federal law , the amendment to New York’s constitution would not supersede federal law. Abortion would still be banned or limited in New York if Congress were to outlaw the procedure.

But supporters, including Andrea Miller of the National Institute for Reproductive Health Action Fund, say the ballot amendment, and similar measures going before voters in other states, could help bolster a legal argument to demonstrate that a federal abortion ban is not the will of the people.

“It sends a strong message, especially when it comes from the voters,” said Miller, who said the outcome of the mid term elections in 2022 showed that Americans were displeased with the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision.

“And that’s why this is so important,” she said.

In order to amend New York’s constitution, a proposal must be approved by two successively elected state legislatures, before it can be ratified by voters. First passage of the measure occurred last June, before the November elections and the new term of the legislature , which began in 2023. Second passage of the equal rights amendment means that the measure can go on the ballot. Supporters are waiting until the 2024 elections, though, to place it there. It will be a presidential election year, and they expect better voter turnout then than during this year’s primarily local elections.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment and interviews newsmakers. Karen previously worked for WINS Radio, New York, and has written for numerous publications, including Adirondack Life and the Albany newsweekly Metroland.