New Yorkers Will Vote on Making Abortion an ‘Equal Right’ in State’s Constitution

The official language that will be proposed to voters on New York’s Nov. 5, 2024, ballot has not yet been released.

Pregnant woman.
Pregnant woman. (photo: Svetlana Iakusheva / Shutterstock)

New Yorkers will be voting next November on a proposal to enshrine abortion rights into their state constitution.

The vote comes as a wave of states attempt to expand abortion access by amending their constitutions following the overturning of Roe v. Wade in 2022, which ended a U.S. constitutional right to abortion.

Ohio is the most recent state to make abortion a constitutional right, with voters in the swing state overwhelmingly voting to pass an amendment in November.

The official language that will be proposed to voters on New York’s Nov. 5, 2024, ballot has not yet been released.

But the proposed “Equal Rights Amendment” that twice passed the state Legislature would amend the constitution’s section on civil rights to make illegal “discrimination” against any person for reasons of “pregnancy, pregnancy outcomes, and reproductive health care and autonomy.”

The amendment would also prohibit discrimination on the basis of “ethnicity, national origin, age, disability, or sex, including sexual orientation, gender identity, [and] gender expression.”

One pro-life leader in the state said that the amendment could bar any future pro-life legislation from being passed in the Legislature, such as mandatory waiting periods or required ultrasounds before chemical abortion.

“The amendment essentially allows for fully unrestricted abortion in New York,” Michele Sterlace, executive director of Feminists Choosing Life of New York, told CNA Dec. 20.

Sterlace said the amendment also undermines parental rights by giving children the “fundamental right” to undergo transgender medical therapies and surgeries without parental notice or consent.

“The electorate needs to be educated on the real impacts of the proposed amendment,” she said. “Abortion harms women and kills children; there’s credible mega studies that show that abortion increases the risk of suicide, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse for women. Women deserve better than that.”

Lawsuit Against Legislators

For the constitution to be amended, the amendment has to pass both houses of the state Legislature two times successively, which it did in 2022 and 2023. Then a simple majority of New Yorkers voting for the ballot measure would be sufficient for passage. 

Republican Assemblywoman Marjorie Byrnes is leading a lawsuit against the state Senate and board of elections alleging that in 2022, the Legislature illegally passed the amendment by failing to follow the procedure laid out by the constitution. 

The complaint, filed in October, says that the Legislature can only adopt a proposed amendment after it has received an opinion from the state attorney general. It further alleges that the Legislature voted on and adopted the amendment on July 1, 2022, prior to its receipt of the attorney general’s opinion.

Byrnes is arguing in the suit that because of the amendment’s illegal adoption, it cannot be put on the 2024 ballot.

New York Abortion Law

New York law currently allows abortions up to nine months in cases where “there is an absence of fetal viability or the abortion is necessary to protect the patient’s life or health.” According to the New York attorney general’s website, abortion up to nine months is also legal if one’s “mental health” is at “risk” as well.

In cases that don’t meet these requirements, the limit for abortion is through the 24th week of pregnancy (almost six months), when the fetus can sneeze and react to loud noises, according to the Charlotte Lozier Institute. At the 24th week, the unborn child’s brain is quickly growing, with taste buds forming and lungs further developing, according to the American Pregnancy Association.

If the child were to be born at the 24th week, it could survive outside the womb, often referred to as viability, according to England’s National Health Service.

There is no parental notification law for girls under the age of 18 who want an abortion.

Pro-Abortion Coalition

Several Democrats, pro-abortion groups, and LGBT activist organizations have banded together in a coalition called New Yorkers for Equal Rights to launch a more than $20 million campaign aimed at passing the ballot initiative, according to a memo published by Politico

Organizations included in the coalition are Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, North Star, New York Immigration Coalition, New York Civil Liberties Union, New Pride Agenda, National Institute for Reproductive Health Action Fund, NAACP New York, Make the Road New York, and 1199 SEIU.

Leading New York Democrats — including Gov. Kathy Hochul, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries — are also involved in the coalition, Axios reported

The coalition says it plans to focus on independents, moderates, liberals, women, and “voters of color,” specifically focusing on a list of swing districts.

“In particular, New Yorkers for Equal Rights will focus outreach and spending on motivating ideologically moderate, AAPI, and younger voters in these areas and persuading independent women, younger Black voters, and older Latino voters,” the memo said. 

New Yorkers on Abortion

With its extreme abortion laws, New York has gained a reputation for being a left-leaning state and an “abortion safe haven.” The last time the blue state voted for a pro-life presidential candidate was in 1984 for Republican President Ronald Reagan.

But out-of-staters might be surprised to know that gubernatorial Republican candidate Lee Zeldin, who was aggressively painted by Democrats and left-leaning media as an enemy of abortion rights and who gained a top rating from pro-life experts during his time in Congress, only lost the 2022 governor’s race by about six percentage points. 

New York’s counties overwhelmingly voted Republican in that race, with an aggressively pro-abortion Hochul mostly winning the counties surrounding the state’s larger cities. 

During that campaign, Zeldin said that he wouldn’t change current New York abortion law, though his opponents doubted the pledge given his record. 

A Marist Poll in 2019 indicated that about two-thirds of New Yorkers think abortion should be “generally illegal” in the third trimester, which includes a majority of Republicans, independents, and Democrats.

Additionally, the poll said that about two-thirds of New Yorkers would support limiting abortion to the first trimester.

New York’s Catholic Bishops

When the constitutional amendment was passed by the state Legislature in July 2022, the state’s bishops spoke out against it through a representative from the New York State Catholic Conference.

“Our elected officials should stop promoting abortion as a woman’s best and only choice and focus instead on true support for women, children, and families,” Kristen Curran, director of government relations at the conference, said at the time.

Curran said that women, children, and their families deserve compassion. 

“Baby formula is scarce, raising a family is unaffordable, and the fallout from the pandemic continues to take its toll. New York State should be pouring resources into helping women and families, not promoting abortion through limitless funding, advertisements, and splashy legislation,” she said.

Pro-Life Path to Victory

After the fall of Roe v. Wade, “trigger laws” went into effect in several states restricting abortion. 

Abortion activists have been working to reverse these laws and expand access to abortion and have met with success at the ballot box. 

Following devastating pro-life losses in Virginia and Ohio last month, Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America President Marjorie Dannenfelser said that “Big Abortion” will continue to spend millions in states to further the abortion agenda and called on the “GOP consultant class” to “wake up” and put their money on the abortion front. 

“We must persevere in working to undo the abortion industry’s 50-year political monopoly and the deeply rooted lies abortion activists have sown to legitimize taking the lives of more than 63 million babies in the womb,” she said.

Sterlace of Feminists Choosing Life of New York said that a coalition of grassroots organizations is currently being formed to defeat the amendment. 

“People of all walks are organizing to defeat [it],” she said.