Long-delayed progress has finally come to Albany.
Today, the 46th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Governor Cuomo will sign into law New York’s Reproductive Health Act, which will close a huge gap in our reproductive justice safety net and make NY a safe-haven nationally.
In just the last two weeks, the NYCLU and our allies have celebrated historic victories as the State Legislature passed important legislation on four of the NYCLU’s top legislative priorities: reproductive justice, voting rights, and protecting trans and gender-nonconforming New Yorkers.
These victories have been a long time coming. For years, these — and virtually all — progressive reforms have been stymied by the State Senate. But with the progressive wave that swept the nation in November and has brought new leadership to the State Senate, we’re finally starting to see the change we’ve worked for for so long.
Here’s a breakdown of what got done over the last two weeks.
Strengthening New York’s abortion law
For the past decade the NYCLU has been asking for the legislature to pass the Reproductive Health Act, which strengthens New York’s flawed abortion law. Today, they finally did it.
The law is all the more critical with President Trump doing everything in his power to destroy abortion access across the country.
The RHA fixes several flaws in New York’s outdated abortion law and recognizes abortion as a fundamental right. It brings the state in line with the protections of Roe v. Wade and helps ensure that women can get the health care they need throughout their pregnancy. It takes abortion out of the criminal code and puts it where women’s health care belongs — in the public health law.
The RHA also recognizes that the medical field has changed dramatically since New York’s abortion law was passed. It allows qualified health care professionals, like nurse practitioners and physician assistants, to provide abortion care that is within their training and scope of practice.
The RHA will make New York a safe haven for women of New York and all over the country.
Now that the RHA is passed, we will need to gear up to get the legislature to take up a state constitutional amendment to safeguard abortion as a fundamental right that can’t be legislated or litigated away.
Expanding access to contraception
By providing people with the tools to determine whether and when to have children, contraception has transformed the cultural landscape of our country. But a lack of comprehensive insurance coverage and high co-payments too often put contraception out of reach. This has serious consequences. Forty-five percent of pregnancies in the United States are unintended and the overwhelming majority of them happen because of a lack of contraceptive use or inconsistent or incorrect use.
To address this, the state legislature finally passed the Comprehensive Contraceptive Coverage Act, which requires insurers to cover the contraception that is right for each patient, without out-of-pocket costs. Trump has taken steps to roll back contraceptive coverage requirements at the federal level. The CCCA ensures that New Yorkers can better plan their families and their futures.
Updating voting laws
For decades, our state’s antiquated voting laws have caused such dismal voter participation that New York had the eighth lowest turnout in the last presidential election. Last week, lawmakers took steps to expand voting access by passing legislation to provide nine days of early voting, while taking the first steps toward amending our constitution to make no-excuse absentee voting and same-day registration a reality.
We still need automatic voter registration to improve our state’s terrible voter registration rate and electronic poll books to decrease the number of long lines and confusion on election day. And we need to make sure there is funding for early voting in the budget. Still, the reforms we won will make a big difference.
While Trump is intent on shrinking democracy, New York is expanding it.
Fighting discrimination against transgender and gender non-conforming New Yorkers
The legislature also passed the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, which prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and expression.
The discrimination that trans and gender-nonconforming people experience is overwhelming. In a national survey that asked transgender and gender-nonconforming people about their experiences of discrimination, 47 percent of survey respondents said they had experienced an adverse job outcome, such as being fired, not hired, or denied a promotion, because of their identity or expression.
The Trump administration has made clear its determination to undermine the safety and legal rights of trans people. Our state is stepping up to protect New Yorkers.
These four wins help to safeguard our state against threats from Washington, push our state forward, and make New York a beacon of hope for Americans. We couldn’t have done it without our supporters. Through the years, our supporters have sent countless emails and made numerous phone calls to lawmakers. They have marched, rallied, tweeted and volunteered for us because they thought these reforms were possible.
These last two weeks proved them right.
There is much more work to do in Albany, and we are optimistic there will be more to celebrate this year. But 2019 is off to a great start for our vision of a fairer New York.