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NY Legislature poised to protect reproductive, gender rights

January 24, 2023 Maysoon Khan, Associated Press/Report for America
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New York’s Legislature is poised to take another step Tuesday toward adopting a constitutional amendment that would bar discrimination based on “pregnancy outcomes” or “gender expression” — provisions intended to protect abortion rights and a person’s right to seek gender-affirming care.

In a pair of afternoon votes, the state’s Senate and Assembly are expected to approve an expansion of the state constitution’s Equal Protection Amendment. That would clear the way for the amendment to go before voters in a referendum in 2024.

While the amendment wouldn’t explicitly preserve a woman’s right to have an abortion, supporters say it would have the practical effect of protecting reproductive rights.

“Women’s rights and LGBTQI+ rights are under attack across the country, that is why it is essential that New York continues to lead the way in protecting reproductive health access and championing equality rights,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Democrat, said in a statement before the vote.

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The Legislature gave initial approval to the amendment in a special session last summer after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. It was the first step in the state’s amendment process, where lawmakers have to pass a resolution twice in order to send it to voters. Gov. Kathy Hochul doesn’t need to sign the legislation for it to become law, but she has said she supports it.

The New York Constitution currently bans discrimination based on “race, color, creed or religion.” The amendment would expand that list to include ethnicity, national origin, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, pregnancy, pregnancy outcomes and “reproductive healthcare and autonomy.”

Right now, New York law allows abortions up to the 24th week of pregnancy, and there appears to be little chance of that changing anytime soon. It also legalized same-sex marriage in 2011, four years before the U.S. Supreme Court declared that people had that right nationwide.

But lawmakers said they felt compelled to make constitutional changes to ensure abortion rights protections in the future if political winds were to shift.

“Rest assured, the Assembly majority will never stop fighting to ensure that our state’s reproductive protections are ironclad,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said at a morning rally at the state Capitol.

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