ALBANY, NY ( Associated Press) — New York Democrats are considering replacing abortion rights in the state’s constitution after a reversal of Roe v. Wade, possibly as part of a broader amendment that would limit gender expression. would also prohibit discrimination.
Lawmakers held a special legislative session Thursday in which Gov. Kathy Hochul mainly called for passing an emergency overhaul of the state’s gun permitting rules after they were struck by a Supreme Court decision.
But Democrats were talking privately about whether to use the emergency session to begin the process of amending the state constitution to protect abortion rights.
State law currently allows abortions up to the 24th week of pregnancy, but abortion rights advocates say they want a guarantee that future legislatures won’t be able to pass more abortion restrictions.
Even in a blue state like New York, however, some Democrats are hesitant to begin the process of amending the constitution amid protests from pro-life Catholic groups.
“There is a narrative among the Democratic leadership that by no means can they win over this issue,” said Kathryn Bodde, assistant policy director for the New York Civil Liberties Union.
Hochul, a Democrat running for her first full term as governor in November, has vowed in campaign ads to protect abortion rights in the state’s constitution.
Lawmakers and advocates are also debating the best course of abortion protection.
One way would be to indirectly protect abortion rights. Leaders from the NYCLU and the New York chapter of Planned Parenthood have proposed an amendment that they say would guarantee abortion rights by prohibiting discrimination based on “pregnancy and pregnancy outcomes.”
That amendment could also prohibit discrimination based on disability, sex, national origin, gender identity and gender expression. Supporters say the government will also intend to create a legal basis to prevent trampling on transgender rights.
Right now, the Equal Protection Amendment to the state’s constitution currently prohibits discrimination on the basis of “race, colour, creed or religion”.
Mike Murphy, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, said lawmakers are considering a combination of both approaches: passing an amendment that explicitly protects abortion rights, and adding sex, gender identity and others to the Constitution. Also adds security.
Leaders of the New York State Catholic Convention have expressed concern about the possibility that a constitutional change would undermine protections for health care workers who do not want to provide abortion or gender transition care for religious reasons.
Health care workers with religious concerns are already protected to some extent under federal and state law, but those protections are not enough, said Dennis Post, executive director of the Catholic Convention.
“Federal discretion protection is limited by certain funding clauses and is entirely dependent on federal enforcement as there is no private authority to act,” the Post said in an email. “It doesn’t extend to anything related to forced referrals or gender change.”
The process of amending the constitution of the state takes time.
Any amendment approved by the legislature this year will have to be approved a second time in the subsequent legislative session of the following year. The proposed amendment would then go to voters in a statewide referendum.
NYCLU’s Bodde said changing the constitution would be worth the effort.
“We are recording gaps where the federal constitution has reduced protections over the past 50 years,” Bodde said. “And we are maintaining a balance of religion within the constitution of our state.”