Hochul Signs Abortion Legislation, But ‘Equality Amendment’ Remains This Year

ALBANY — Governor Kathy Hochul and state Democratic leaders touted their actions to protect safe abortion rights as “the nation’s leader” Monday during the signing of a bill in Manhattan that precedes a retooling provided for in Roe v. Wade by the United States Supreme Court.

“We don’t talk, we act,” Hochul said at the signing of the bill, which took place two weeks before the gubernatorial and Assembly primaries. “We will say once again, ‘expect New York for a national response to this crisis.'”

The six new measures are intended to create additional legal protections for abortion providers and patients, including for certain services provided to people in a state where abortion may not be legal. It also directs the state Department of Health to study and report on unmet health and resource needs for pregnant women in New York City.

While some lawmakers and state officials have called the laws further enshrining the right to abortion in New York, which they say was codified in 2019 under the state’s reproductive health law. , some abortion advocates have grown frustrated that the primary goal – a constitutional right to an abortion that is protected by legal standards of equality, not privacy – may continue to be mired in a political quagmire until at least next year.

“From our perspective, this is simply unacceptable,” said Katharine Bodde, associate director specializing in gender equality and reproductive rights at the New York Civil Liberties Union, on Monday.

Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts applauded the bill’s signing as a signal from Hochul and lawmakers that they “reaffirm their commitment to protecting and preserving the reproductive rights of all New Yorkers,” according to a statement from the president. -Interim CEO Georgana Hanson.

Hochul was recently approved for a full term as governor by Planned Parenthood, an organization her tax filings show she donated to in her hometown of Buffalo.

Bodde said the six bills signed by Hochul are a “good first step.”

“In an election year, in particular, we run the risk of taking superficial measures when we really need to take the time to take the most difficult measures,” Bodde continued.

One of the programs Bodde and other advocates are seeking is a “reproductive freedom and equity program,” which would create annual funding and protections for people coming to New York for abortions, including at minus $50 million. He was supported by State Attorney General Letitia James, sponsored by Congresswoman Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, D-Queens, and State Senator Cordell Cleare, D-Harlem, but did not leave the committee. during the legislative session that ended earlier this month. .

Hochul praised the executive’s move to allocate a one-time $35 million to increase staffing and security at abortion centers.

The main push from advocates is for the “equality amendment,” which would position the right to abortion as one of the equal rights as opposed to the current norm of a woman’s personal right. The constitutional amendment would fill “critical gaps,” Bodde said, by “prohibiting discrimination between a number of protected classes, including pregnancy outcomes.”

The legal defense group does not necessarily consider a fall of Roe v. Wade would upend abortion rights in New York, but he could put it on less solid legal ground, especially if Republican leaders were to take over in Albany and decide which back rights are in the law, but not in the constitution of the state.

One version of the bill was backed by State Sen. Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan, who recently told the Times Union that she would be eager to come back to Albany to pass an amendment if all parties could agree. on the terms. Congresswoman Rebecca A. Seawright, D-Manhattan, is the patron of the lower house.

Lawmakers and advocates have noted that the amendment remains tied to perceived issues about how it might alter religious rights, if any. NYCLU believes this would not affect religious rights because they are protected by a different section of the state constitution, while religious groups, such as the state’s Catholic Conference, have significantly different views. The Catholic Conference also opposed the bills signed into law on Monday, saying “this abortion-or-nothing narrative only belittles women.”

“At this point, it feels like lawmakers are afraid of their own shadow,” Bodde said.

For a constitutional amendment to reach the polls before voters in a statewide election, it would first have to go through two legislative sessions.

Lawmakers widely view 2024 as the earliest date to present the amendment to voters, which would coincide with a presidential election where Democratic turnout in New York is likely to be high. (An amendment to expand mail-in voting methods failed last year in off-cycle elections despite widespread support from Democratic lawmakers.)

If lawmakers seek to force an ‘equality amendment’ into the 2024 ballot, they will likely have to cast their first votes on it by August 10, based on requirements that it must be voted on 90 days before. the November elections.

“I can’t say it will happen, but I’m open-minded,” Hochul said Monday.

After failing to reach agreement in the scheduled legislative session, it would likely have to go through a “special session” in which Hochul would summon lawmakers to the Capitol this summer.

But the governor said that given what she described as an impasse between the Assembly and the Senate, the issue would likely not be resolved until at least January, which would push back the possibility of the amendment reaching voters. until 2026. The two states, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins ​​and Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie, flanked Hochul during Monday’s bill signing.

Hochul campaigns on her abortion record while warning New Yorkers in campaign ads that Republican candidates may seek to roll back abortion rights if they win. In her television commercials, it is written: “She is working to amend the state constitution so that whatever the Supreme Court decides in Washington, your right to a safe abortion will be protected in New York.

On Monday, she said while signing six bills on abortion-specific legal protections: “That’s why with the stroke of a pen I’ll say: Not here, not in New York, never.”

US Representative Lee Zeldin, R-Long Island, who is anti-abortion and has said he would appoint a pro-life state health commissioner if elected governor, has accused Democrats of playing the “politics” and move the issue forward. for a “huge enthusiasm gap”.

“You can’t really go much further,” he said in May, noting that New York has legalized late-term abortions and allows non-doctors to perform the procedures.

About Michael S. Montanez

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