Back to All Commentary

New York must now lead the way on abortion rights

By: Donna Lieberman Executive Director

A leaked draft opinion from the Supreme Court reveals a majority of the court’s justices are poised to overturn Roe v. Wade and revoke the fundamental right to abortion. With 26 states ready to completely outlaw abortion if Roe falls, this injustice will have devastating consequences for millions of people, especially poor women of color.

New York is already a beacon of hope. The state’s hard-won Reproductive Health Act codifies Roe and protects the right to abortion in our public health law. But we must close the gaps that still exist in our laws and eliminate the financial and other barriers that too often make it impossible to access that care.

To overcome these hurdles, there are two urgent steps lawmakers must take before the legislative session ends in June.

First, we must protect abortion by advancing pregnancy protections in our state constitution. While abortion is legal in New York, our constitution does not protect from discrimination based on sex, pregnancy, or pregnancy outcomes, leaving pregnant people vulnerable.

Across the country, and in New York, courts and police are already seeking to punish people who have miscarriages, stillbirths, or abortions. State Sen. Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan, has proposed the Equality Amendment, which would protect equal rights for all people and acknowledge that pregnancy discrimination is deeply rooted in sex discrimination.

Because the amendment would go before voters as a constitutional ballot question, waiting another year would prevent it from going to a popular vote for ratification until 2026. Not passing this measure now would be a failure. We need immediate action to ensure New York is a backstop against the erosion of our rights by the federal courts.

Second, we must fund abortion access. Many people already can’t afford to pay for abortion care, and providers don’t have the resources to meet the current demand in New York. Abortion funds — whose financial and logistical support helps make the right to abortion a reality — are overburdened. These resources will be even more strained once people are forced to cross state lines to access health care.

On this front, New York has taken a crucial step to meet the moment by providing $25 million to fund abortion care. We must do even more.

New York must support and supplement the critical work of providers and abortion funds by creating a comprehensive state program to fund abortions for those who cannot afford care. To complement this state investment, lawmakers should also create an Abortion Access Fund, giving New Yorkers the opportunity to contribute via their state income tax returns. Contributions to the fund would help patients pay for medical care, travel, child care, and other abortion-related expenses.

Beyond the immediate first steps of a constitutional amendment and increased funding, we must work to protect patients, helpers, and abortion providers. Some forced-pregnancy states are already considering laws that go way beyond banning abortion within their own borders to prohibit residents from traveling out of state for abortion care. New York must find every legal pathway to protect those who provide and seek care in our state from harassment and retribution.

New York also needs to increase access to abortion providers in circumstances where people seek care in hospitals. Some New York hospitals refuse to provide abortion care based on bureaucratic or religious policies, rather than sound medical science. Patients deserve the tools to determine whether their local hospital actually provides the care they need.

As the landscape shifts, more policy solutions will emerge, and New York must be ready to respond.

Our state first opened its doors to abortion care five decades ago — three years before the Supreme Court decided Roe. We are once again called to act as a leader on abortion rights and access, and that’s exactly what we must do. The nation is counting on us.

This piece was originally published in the Times Union.

As bold as the spirit of New York, we are the NYCLU.
© 2024 New York
Civil Liberties Union