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New York leaders consider a constitutional amendment guaranteeing abortion rights

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul
John Minchillo
Associated Press
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul

New York Governor Kathy Hochul, speaking on ABC News, said she and Democratic leaders of the Legislature are considering an amendment to New York’s constitution in response to the leak of the Supreme Court's draft opinion which would overturn abortion rights. It would ensure that the right to choose an abortion is protected in the state, even if some Republicans who advocate for a federal law against abortion come to power.

If conservative judges on the U.S. Supreme Court follow through with a draft opinion leaked earlier this week striking down abortion rights, then as many as 26 states may outlaw the procedure.

“I want to have this enshrined, not just in state law, but in our constitution, just in case there ever is a situation where we lose the House, lose the Senate, heaven forbid,” Hochul said. “If there ever was a federal law that would supersede our state law, we want to make sure it's in our constitution.”

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said New York could become “the last line of defense” for abortion rights. She said she agrees with Hochul that stronger steps need to be taken in case Democrats ever lose power to the GOP in blue New York State.

“Everything has to be on the table,” Stewart-Cousins said.

Hochul, in two national television appearances, said she’ll ask the federal government for aid to deal with the expected surge of people seeking abortions in New York, if the Supreme Court acts on a draft opinion striking down the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

Speaking on MSNBC, Hochul said thousands of people seeking abortions may try to find health care in New York, where the rights enshrined in Roe v. Wade were codified into New York law in 2019, and will not be affected by the potential Supreme Court decision.

The governor has said the state will welcome those patients with “open arms.” And she said she will ask for federal funding to help with that effort.

“This is an area where the Biden Administration can help us financially,” Hochul said. “We would appreciate that support, because this is going to be an enormous cost to us, but we want people to feel that this is a safe harbor. This is a fundamental right under assault. “

The governor said when New York in 1970 was among the first states in the nation to legalize abortion, around 200,000 women sought the procedure in New York, and she expects at least that number of people to seek help in the state again.

Hochul said the recently-passed state budget includes $10 billion over the next five years to increase staffing at health care facilities. And she said she’ll work to make sure that telehealth is an option for people who can’t travel or don’t want to come to the state to seek care.

“We are also going to be helping with our telehealth services, making sure that insurance companies cover this so we can make sure that if someone wants to get a prescription for medication abortions, that that is available as well,” Hochul said.

She said the state’s new spending plan also requires that health insurers cover abortion.

Senate Leader Stewart-Cousins said bills in the Senate, sponsored by Finance Committee Chair Liz Krueger, and Senator Alessandra Biaggi, would try to protect providers in New York from legal action from states where the procedure would be banned.

A Texas law which took effect in September bans abortions after six weeks, and allows state residents to essentially become bounty hunters, allowing them to bring civil lawsuits for as much as $10,000 against anyone who violates that law.

“We do not want anyone who’s going to be hunted in Texas, to be hunted here,” Stewart-Cousins said.

Hochul said state lawyers are examining extradition agreements with other states, and whether or not to comply with subpoenas.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.