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A proposed constitutional amendment would ensure the right to choose abortion in New York

The New York state Capitol building in Albany.
Hans Pennink
Associated Press
The New York state Capitol building in Albany.

New York state lawmakers are considering a change to the state’s constitution that would enshrine the right to abortion as part of a larger guarantee of equal rights. The sponsor of the measure said it’s needed now more than ever.

Senator Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat who chairs the powerful Finance Committee, first introduced the measure in 2019, well before the leak this month of a U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion that would overrule the 1973 abortion rights decision Roe v. Wade.

While New York codified the rights in Roe into state law three years ago, Krueger said more protection is needed. The proposed amendment would build on a clause added to the state’s constitution in 1938, which provides protection from public or private discrimination on the basis of race, color or creed. The proposal would add new categories of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, ethnicity, age, disability and sex — including pregnancy.

“And that includes a person having the right to make their own decisions about their own bodily functions, the right to privacy and nondiscrimination in pregnancy and in pregnancy outcomes,” Krueger said. “Whether it is your choice to continue a pregnancy or not to continue a pregnancy.”

Krueger said the amendment is needed to guard against the potential of a federal law outlawing abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the court, and anti-abortion advocates win Congress and the White House.

She said it also would stop a future New York Legislature and governor from overturning the state law that includes the protections in Roe.

“You are also opening yourself up to people bringing challenges here in New York, as we are seeing them do all over the country, to try to override your laws and insert their positions and their judgments over you and your body and your autonomy,” Krueger said.

Krueger said Senate staff is working with the state Assembly, which is also led by Democrats, to finalize the language.

In order to change the state’s constitution, a vote by two consecutively elected state Legislatures is needed before it goes before voters.

The senator said if the amendment is first passed before the session ends in early June, then it would be on track to be decided in the November 2024 elections. That’s a presidential election year when voter turnout is expected to be high.

In the meantime, Governor Kathy Hochul has set aside $25 million to fund reproductive health services, including abortion, in the state, and approved an additional $10 million to strengthen security at clinics.

Twenty-six states have laws on the books, or statutes that would take effect, that would effectively prohibit abortions if Roe is overturned. Hochul has already said that New York will welcome “with open arms” people from other states where the procedure is banned to obtain abortions here.

The state’s health commissioner, Dr. Mary Bassett, is carrying out the distribution of the funding.

“So that we can respond to the increased need for these services to which all women should have the right and the option,” Bassett said. “Should people start returning to New York state, as they did in the past.”

In 1970, after New York became among the first states to legalize abortion, an estimated 200,000 women came from other states where it was banned to have the procedure here.

Senator Krueger said the $25 million should be considered a “down payment” on what could be needed in the next few years.

Krueger is also sponsoring bills to protect New York’s abortion and reproductive health care providers against legal actions from authorities in other states where the procedure could be banned if Roe is overturned. They include a ban on law enforcement agencies in New York sharing data relating to abortion and related reproductive health care with law enforcement officials from other states.

“We will try to make sure we change our laws to make clear that we are protecting providers in New York state,” Krueger said. “Regardless of whether they are providing their services to a New Yorker or someone who comes to New York for services.”

But Krueger concedes that ultimately, New York does not have the power to stop people who seek abortions here from being prosecuted when they return to their home state.

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.