BY MAYSOON KHAN
ALBANY, NY (AP) — New York lawmakers took a crucial step on Tuesday to amend the state’s constitution to outlaw discrimination based on “pregnancy outcomes” or “gender expression” — provisions protecting abortion rights and justice a person seeking a gender affirmation care.
In two afternoon votes, the Senate and state assembly approved an expansion of the equal protections constitutional amendment, paving the way for it to go before voters in a statewide ratification referendum in 2024.
While the amendment would not specifically preserve a woman’s right to an abortion, proponents say it would have the practical effect of protecting reproductive rights.
“This is our mandate to further strengthen New York’s status as a designated state where reproductive liberties are protected and the right to vote is guaranteed,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said at a press conference ahead of the vote.
The Legislature gave its first approval of the change in a special session last summer after the US Supreme Court Roe v. Wade had picked up. It was the first step in the state’s change process, which requires lawmakers to pass a resolution twice in order to send it to voters. Governor Kathy Hochul does not have to sign the amendment for it to become law, but has lobbied for its passage.
The New York Constitution currently prohibits discrimination based on “race, color, creed, or religion.” The amendment would add race, national origin, age, disability, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, pregnancy, pregnancy outcomes, and “reproductive health care and autonomy” to that list.
Assemblyman David DiPietro, a Republican from western New York, said during the ground debate that the measure was unfair to many believers.
“Passing the Equality Amendment would result in a further erosion of religious freedom for New Yorkers whose beliefs, traditions teach that abortion, homosexuality and/or transgenderism are immoral and could subject many religious charities and schools to catastrophic liability,” DiPietro said.
Abortion has been legal in New York since 1970, three years before it was decriminalized nationwide. The law, which has little chance of changing in the near future, allows abortions up to the 24th week of pregnancy.
The state also legalized same-sex marriage in 2011, four years before the US Supreme Court declared that people nationwide had that right.
But Democrats said they felt compelled to make constitutional changes to ensure certain rights are protected in the future.
“Because you know what? We’ve recently learned that the courts can change and suddenly the protections you thought you had because of judicial processes are gone,” said State Senator Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat.
New York voters will have the final say on whether to ratify the amendment, likely in the same vote that will elect the next US president.
“Rest assured that the majority of the Assembly will never stop fighting to keep our state’s reproductive protection adamant,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said at a morning rally at the state Capitol.
Associated Press writer Michael Hill of Albany, New York contributed to this report.
Maysoon Khan is a corps member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that brings journalists into local newsrooms to cover undercover topics. Follow Maysoon Khan on Twitter.