New York Moves to Enshrine Abortion Rights in State Constitution

ALBANY, NY – The New York State Senate on Friday passed a measure that, if fully enacted, would enact in the state Constitution the right to abortion and access to contraception.

The measure – the Equal Rights Amendment – puts New York at the forefront of legal efforts to protect reproductive rights after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last week, ending the measure. longstanding abortion protection.

But the scope of the revision is much broader. It prohibits the government from discriminating against anyone based on a list of qualifications that includes race, ethnicity, national origin, disability, or gender – with particular attention to sexual orientation, identity and gender identity. sex expression and pregnancy on the list of protected conditions.

“We can no longer afford to play a risky game because of the right not only to take things to court, but to start controlling everything,” said Senator Liz Krueger, the architect of the amendment. all courts. “So it is becoming more and more important to keep everything in the state constitution and state law.”

They say timing is also important.

“I think this first paragraph responds to a time when New Yorkers want to express their support for abortion rights and reproductive health care – as well as protect other New Yorkers,” said Senator. Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat who co-sponsor the bill.

Republicans were divided on the amendment, particularly in the Senate, where seven voted in favor and 13 opposed. Some opponents to it, including Senator Andrew Lanza of Staten Island, argue that Democrats have overused and created text that could, in fact, discriminate against certain views. religious point.

“I don’t think anyone should be discriminated against – whatever your views on abortion,” Mr Lanza said.

More than a dozen states and the District of Columbia had asserted or expanded abortion rights before the Supreme Court ruling, while dozens of other Republican-led states had laws banning abortions after the ruling. to be promulgated.

In the final days of New York’s 2022 legislative session, lawmakers passed a package of bills aimed at protecting those seeking and providing abortion services. But after the Supreme Court issued the decision on abortion and concealment of weapons, Governor Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, ordered the Legislature to return to Albany on Thursday for a session extraordinary meeting.

After a long night of negotiations, the measure was passed by the Senate without debate. It now heads to the Council, where Speaker Carl E. Heastie said Friday that he expects it to pass.

However, there will be no immediate changes.

Amending the State Constitution is a multi-year process in New York that requires two separately elected Legislatures to be passed, and then approved by voters in a referendum. By passing it this year, Democratic leaders hope that they can win approval next year and make it to voters in 2024, when high turnout is expected to be on the horizon. expected in a presidential election year.

Although Ms. Hochul had no official role in approving such an amendment, she is still a champion voice on the measure and has included the effort in campaign advertisements.

Supporters had hoped to approve the amendment by the end of the 2022 session, which ends in early June. But the effort got bogged down after several leading religious groups, including the Catholic Conference and the Council on Jewish Community Relations, opposed the measure for various reasons.

A key issue is whether the act of introducing new protected classes into the State Constitution would downgrade existing religious protections in any way.

Early versions of the bills did not include religion or belief in the list of protected classes, although religious rights appear elsewhere in the state Constitution. Religious groups protested vehemently.

Marc Stern, general counsel of the American Jewish Committee, said that while he supports the addition of reproductive and transgender protections, he believes that removing religion from the list specifically may be unacceptable.

“What they think of is wedding photography, bakeries,” said Stern, referring to previous court cases involving businesses that have denied their services to couples. homosexual. “That’s why they exclude religion and belief.”

Mr Stern said he believes lawmakers intend for same-sex couples to win those cases – what he sees as putting “the thumb on the scale”.

By Friday, lawmakers had reached a compromise, adding religion to the list of protected classes so that religion is equal to gender and race.

Legislators said the compromise would ensure that the state has ever stronger protections for members of protected classes and that the rights of a group will not diminish the rights of a group. of another group.

“This modification is actually a shield, not a sword,” Mr. Hoylman said.

A provision that should have lowered the standard of discrimination – including unintentional discrimination leading to ‘differential effects’ – has been removed from the law, to the chagrin of supporters. household. But a provision in the law would open the door to future changes.

While the Catholic Conference continued to oppose the measure, other religious groups, including the Council on Jewish Community Relations voiced their support, saying they were pleased to find it. “The common ground for adding these protections to all New Yorkers includes protecting religious freedom.”

Other advocates, including the New York Civil Liberties Union, also cheered the passage, calling it an important first step in responding to the ‘existential threat’ posed by the Supreme Court.

“Our state constitution, if this amendment were passed, would say, ‘not here in New York and not on our track.’ Our equal protection clause can serve as a model,” adds Lee Rowland, NYCLU policy director, adding: “It’s a big win. “

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