New York approves abortion amendment to state constitution

On Friday evening, New York lawmakers passed the equality amendment, an anti-discrimination law that would enshrine the constitutional right to abortion.

“Despite the fact that in New York we feel protected, but there’s always that underlining anxiety, ‘but what if Washington does something else,’” Hochul said just after 3:30 p.m. on Friday. The amendment “is going to protect reproductive health in the state of New York for generations to come.”

The Assembly voted 98-43 just after 8 p.m. Friday. The state Senate approved the amendment text 49-14 earlier in the day.

The state legislature returned to Albany this week for a special session initially focused on passing new gun laws to counter the Supreme Court’s overturning of New York’s century-old concealed carry law. But Hochul and legislative leaders reached an agreement on the equality amendment as deliberations began Thursday.

The amendment would then need to be voted on again in the next legislative session — in 2023 or 2024 — before being sent to voters for a statewide referendum.

Hochul does not have an official role in the amendment process, but encouraged the state legislature to take it up after calling them back to Albany.

“No person shall be denied the equal protection of the laws of this state,” the proposed text written by Manhattan Assembly member Liz Krueger read.

Classes protected by discrimination in the proposed amendment include race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, disability, creed or religion, or sex — including sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, pregnancy, pregnancy outcomes, and reproductive healthcare and autonomy.

As of Friday afternoon, the state Senate had passed the bill, in what Hochul and legislative leaders called a direct rebuke to the recent Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision by the court that established abortion as a constitutional right nationwide.

“We are running out of time, frankly, to codify these human rights before the Supreme Court completely invalidates them,” state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Yonkers Democrat, said in a speech on the state Senate floor Friday. “The amendment we’re passing today attempts to achieve what America has failed to do for generations: guarantee constitutional protections for individuals on the basis of sex, orientation, or background from implicit or explicit discrimination.”

“We’re also enshrining a constitutional right to abortion and contraception to help ensure that our rights remain untouched by the federal court’s recent action,” Stewart-Cousins added.

The majority leader also noted Friday, July 1, was the 52nd anniversary of New York legalizing abortion — three years before Roe v. Wade.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said Friday he was confident the amendment text language would endure court challenges.

“Anything can be challenged in court, but we believe what we’ve done in consultation with the Senate will pass constitutional muster,” Heastie said.

Heastie added he would be open to return to Albany again if further Supreme Court decisions threatened New Yorkers’ rights.

“That’s probably more of a question for Clarence Thomas,” Heastie said. “We’re playing defense and in response mode. He seemed to be very clear that the Supreme Court is not done on things that people here in New York feel are important.”

Thomas, a conservative Supreme Court justice, wrote in a concurring opinion in the Dobbs case that he believes the court should reconsider cases that legalized gay marriage, sodomy and contraception.

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