New York may add abortion and birth control rights to constitution

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New York lawmakers are working on an agreement to begin the process of amending the state constitution to guarantee access to abortion and contraception following the US Supreme Court ruling from last week overturning Roe v. Wade.

Governor Kathy Hochul summoned the state Legislature to the Capitol on Thursday to take a series of yet-to-be-printed measures that would tighten the state’s gun control laws after the highest court in the land has made it easier to legally obtain a permit. carry a gun in public.

But legislative leaders and their staff simultaneously discussed a plan to revive the stalled measure known as the Equality Amendment, which – as previously written – would add a new clause to the state constitution. protecting against discrimination based on a variety of traits, including sex, gender identity, pregnancy, and “pregnancy outcomes”.

On Thursday morning, closed-door discussions between lawmakers and staff turned to crystallizing access to abortion. The talks have focused on adding new language to the constitution explicitly protecting the right to abortion and contraceptive methods, according to two people familiar with the negotiations. The expanded list of discrimination protections would be added to an existing section that already protects religious freedoms in hopes of allaying concerns from religious organizations, people familiar with the talks said.

State law already protects the right to an abortion for up to 24 weeks after conception, or later in cases where the fetus is deemed non-viable or the mother’s health is at risk. But abortion rights activists have spent months lobbying for the equality amendment, presenting it as an extra layer of protection.

“Our rights are no longer secure,” said Vincent Russell, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic Action Fund, in a statement Wednesday. “That’s why it’s essential to pass the Equality Amendment in New York, to protect New Yorkers from discrimination, and to ensure that access to sexual and reproductive health care is safe, regardless of or the incumbent.”

If approved, the amendment would be a direct response to the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision last week, in which the court struck down federal abortion rights and returned the issue to the states. In his written opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas suggested the reasoning could also be used to revisit a previous decision protecting contraceptive rights.

Even if lawmakers passed the constitutional change, it would not take effect immediately.

To change the state constitution, two consecutive elected sessions of the legislature must first approve it. Then it would be put to a referendum vote. If the current crop of lawmakers approve it before mid-August and next year’s legislature follows suit, the amendment could be on the ballot in 2023 or 2024. If they don’t, the earliest he would be on the ballot is 2025.

As of 4:30 p.m. Thursday, lawmakers had not agreed on final wording on the abortion measure, and there was no guarantee they would reach a consensus. But the amendment’s sponsors — State Senator Liz Krueger and Assemblywoman Rebecca Seawright, both Manhattan Democrats — had has already spoken out in favor of adding the issue to the agenda of the extraordinary session.

Krueger was excused from Thursday’s session due to a “private matter”, according to her spokesperson, Justin Flagg.

“In Special Session, we are closer to achieving the goal of an amendment to the New York Constitution that would let voters decide,” Seawright tweeted Thursday. “The need is even more evident following the disastrous Supreme Court decision that struck down Roe v. Wade.”

An earlier version of the Equality Amendment raised concern from the State Catholic Conference and even some Democratic lawmakers for failing to include creed and religion in classes and traits that would enjoy constitutional protections. additional.

Worries over religious freedoms helped scuttle the amendment’s chances of passage earlier in June, when state lawmakers ended their regular session in Albany without resuming it. But Thursday’s special session revived the measure’s chances, spurring a new round of negotiations.

On Monday, Krueger presented a new version which included a line stating that the amendment would not “modify or diminish” religious freedom protections already set forth in the constitution. But the Catholic Conference was not convinced, post a note Tuesday, saying the updated wording “would have little impact because of case law that has weakened religious liberty protections in the state over the past two decades.”

“The amendment further erodes the religious freedom of thousands of healthcare workers and counselors whose religious traditions and professional judgments disagree with practices such as abortion services and gender transitions,” indicates the memo.

Hochul has no official role in the constitutional amendment process, but she signaled her support for the equality amendment at an independent press conference on Wednesday.

“I just want it to happen,” she said.

State lawmakers had relented in their special session around 12:40 p.m. Thursday, but none of the bills they hope to put to a vote had yet been introduced by 4:30 p.m.

It’s likely the session could continue late into the night or into the early morning, depending on how long final negotiations between legislative leaders and Hochul’s office take.

This story has been updated to include comments from Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright.



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