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Equal rights amendment protecting abortion rights stalls in final days of legislative session

New York State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins speaks to reporters on June 1, 2022.
Karen DeWitt
New York State Public Radio
New York State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins speaks to reporters on June 1, 2022.

With the prospect of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, the New York Legislature has approved several measures to protect abortion providers. But a proposed equal rights amendment to the state’s constitution guaranteeing a right to the procedure remains stalled.

The measures include legal protections for health care providers in New York who perform abortions on patients from states where the procedure would be banned if the 1973 decision is overturned. Under the measures, the health care professionals could not be charged with professional misconduct or be denied medical malpractice insurance.

Other bills protect the rights of individuals seeking abortion or gender-affirming care in New York state and would prohibit the state from extraditing a patient or a health care practitioner to another state to face abortion-related charges if the procedure was conducted in New York.

The state would also not have to honor a subpoena request from another state if it relates to abortion services legally performed in New York.

Last month, a U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion that would overrule Roe was leaked. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins called the leaked opinion a “five-alarm fire.”

“We are viscerally reminded that there is no end to the fight for our rights,” Stewart-Cousins said. “New York must once again take up the mantle and lead where other levels of government have failed.”

The measures, which were also approved in the State Assembly, come with funding for people from other states where the procedure is banned to travel to New York. In some cases, the state would pay for plane fare, gas money, lodging, and other related expenses.

Republicans in the Senate, who are in the minority party in the chamber, voted against the measures.

Senator Phil Boyle, a Republican who represents portions of Long Island, said while most of his constituents likely support the right to have an abortion, they might not back the idea of their taxes paying for people from other states to have the procedure.

He said Hochul has already directed that $35 million of taxpayer money be used to support abortion care clinics, including funding travel and health care services for out-of-state patients.

“You do a poll in your district, the vast majority will be probably going to be pro-choice,” Boyle said. “But then ask them, ‘Do you want to use your taxpayer money to pay for abortions for women who travel to New York state if Roe v. Wade is overturned to receive those abortions? I guarantee you, it’s a lot the other way.”

Hochul is expected to sign the bills.

One key abortion rights measure was not voted on, though. A proposed constitutional amendment that would include a pregnant person’s right to seek an abortion has not yet been finalized.

Stewart-Cousins said negotiations have bogged down over the exact language of the amendment to ensure that it doesn’t have any unintended consequences.

“We are trying, we are still working, it’s not as easy as you would think,” said Stewart-Cousins, who added the aim of the amendment is to protect “pregnancy outcomes.”

“We have to make sure we are not disadvantaging others while trying to protect more,” she said.

The Senate leader is not ruling out a return to the Capitol later in the summer to approve the amendment. If the measure isn’t approved by the end of the 2022 calendar year, it could not go before voters until at least 2025.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.