On Monday, Governor Andrew Cuomo, draped in a pink sash, stood behind a pink-splashed podium and declared to a room full of women’s health advocates his intention to add an amendment to the state Constitution, which would protect New York women in the event that Donald Trump achieves his deranged dream of repealing Roe v Wade.
“As they pull on women’s rights, we’re going to push back on women’s rights,” he said as he announced the proposal. “Let’s put it on the ballot, and let’s let the people decide.”
The crowd shrieked with appreciation, and also presumably terror. Their fear is well-founded: The next day, Trump announced his pick of Colorado-based appellate Judge Neil Gorsuch to fill the Supreme Court seat formerly held by the late Antonin Scalia. Gorsuch has a reliable history of opposing women’s rights, most recently in his decision to support Utah Governor Gary Herbert’s attempt to defund Planned Parenthood. He also sided with Hobby Lobby when it came to private companies’ ability to deny women access to contraceptives, writing that “all of us face the problem of complicity. All of us must answer for ourselves whether and to what degree we are willing to be involved in the wrongdoing of others.” (The wrongdoing of others being, of course, forcing women to become pregnant.)
On the surface, Cuomo’s announcement is a positive step for women petrified their access to abortions and health care is going to be set aflame under a Trump regime. Abbey Fashouer, a spokesperson for the governor, said that while the details of Cuomo’s measure will be released “shortly,” the amendment will seek to codify the language of Roe v. Wade into the state’s Constitution. In this way, New York women will have their basic rights protected regardless of the atrocities perpetuated by the federal government.
But for a constitutional amendment to pass in New York, it must not only be approved by the legislature twice in successive terms, but win the majority approval of voters. Another tactic, as reported by DNAinfo, requires voters to agree to hold a constitutional convention, elect delegates and ratify the amendment. The earliest the issue could conceivably be brought to voters isn’t until 2019, and by then it could be too late for many women.
State Senator Liz Krueger, a founding co-chair of the New York State Bipartisan Legislative Pro-Choice Caucus, told the Voice she has not seen the text of Cuomo’s proposed amendment, but she is very familiar with the already extant Reproductive Health Act, for which she is a co-sponsor. The act, which would modernize and strengthen New York state’s pitifully out-of-date abortion laws, has passed the Assembly but still requires 32 votes to pass the Republican-controlled state Senate. Cuomo’s political muscle would be well-used advancing the bill, she said.
“I am not saying I am opposed to an amendment,” Krueger said, noting that she would first need to see it before deciding whether to support it. Still, she continued, “The right answer for New York now is to pass the Reproductive Health Act,” which she said would be fast tracked with “the right political will and effort.”
When it comes down to it, New York’s abortion laws lag far behind many other states. This is thanks in part to its progressivism: Current New York legislation was passed in 1970, three years ahead of Roe v. Wade. The issue is that the law, according to Krueger, is a bad one, written at a time before anyone could have predicted the twists and turns the abortion debate would take.
While it does legalize abortions up to 24 weeks of pregnancy and beyond if a woman’s life is determined to be at risk, it fails to offer adequate protections to providers who perform abortions after 24 weeks. In several instances, women have died trying to travel out-of-state for those abortions, having failed to find a provider in New York.
“These are women who desperately want to carry to term and have a healthy baby, and are told very late in the pregnancy ‘You’re going to die if we don’t remove this now,’” Krueger said.
So while New York’s laws have needed updating for years, the threat of the repeal of Roe v. Wade increases the level of urgency dramatically. New York can’t continue to rely on other state’s services, particularly since it’s unclear what will be left of them if federal abortion protections are obliterated.
“It’s been unbelievably outrageous to me that we have laws that are so antiquated and bad that women would be better off in what are seen as anti-choice red states,” Krueger said.
Asked whether the governor could both support the RHA and the amendment, Fashouer sent the Voice the following statement:
“The Governor has and continues to support a woman’s fundamental right to make her own reproductive health choices. That’s why the Governor supports the Reproductive Health Act and codifying Roe v. Wade into state law – something he has championed for a number of years – and why he is also proposing we enshrine these critical protections for women in the New York State Constitution.”
Doug Muzzio, a professor of political science at Baruch College’s Marxe School of Public and International Affairs, told DNAinfo that he suspects Cuomo’s proposal is just a craven attempt to win praise.
“Cynically, he did it so we wouldn’t have to deal with the current legislation and he puts it off for two years or more,” he said. “It gives him kudos for his stand, but it’s not going to happen.”
Krueger hopes this isn’t the case — but she’s not holding her breath.
“I never make an assumption about what the governor’s position is,” she said.