Editor’s Note: We asked State Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright for her reflections on the just ended special legislative session in Albany. She graciously agreed.
In one shameful swoop, the United States Supreme Court has sent the women and families of America into the shadows of the night.
The rescinding of a half-a-century-old federal right—a woman’s right to control her body– is a “Supreme Setback.” From the gloomy darkness of this judicial nightmare, beacons of hope in New York State are helping to light the path for a new era of activism to protect our cherished freedoms.
First, Governor Kathy Hochul has pledged New York as a safe haven for women seeking necessary health care. The Governor is funding important initiatives for women trapped in other states with prehistoric laws aimed at controlling their bodies. However, more can and must be done.
Second, the state Legislature, in 2019, codified the guarantees of Roe v. Wade into statute. I proudly co-sponsored the Reproductive Health Act, which passed prior to the “Supreme Setback.” So long as Democrats maintain the majority in the Assembly and the Senate, the law shields women from oppressive abortion regulations.
But any law can be changed or even subverted if the political winds shift. So this brings us to why all New Yorkers should pay close attention to the third beacon of hope.
In an extraordinary special session, the Legislature approved the Equality Amendment to the New York State Constitution, a measure I introduced as lead sponsor five years ago. My colleague Senator Liz Krueger has carried the amendment in the Senate.
The amendment enshrines abortion rights in New York’s fundamental governing document, but that is not all. Importantly, the amendment expands protected classes to further guard against more “Supreme Setbacks” from a hostile United States Supreme Court.
We took care to add comprehensive language that, for the first time, specifically prohibits discrimination based on race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, disability, creed, religion, or sex, including sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, pregnancy, pregnancy outcomes, reproductive healthcare and autonomy. In addition, the amendment prohibits discrimination by a person, firm, corporation, institution, state, or any agency or subdivision of the state.
I am committed to organizing and energizing a new generation of activists. Yes, we have passed the first hurdle of a constitutional amendment with the help of Governor Kathy Hochul, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, unyielding legislator colleagues and numerous dedicated advocacy groups. But a second vote in the next legislative session is still required before the matter is placed on the ballot for the voters of New York State to decide in a referendum.
We must coalesce and develop a sustained public education campaign while ensuring that all marginalized New Yorkers are supported, respected, and free from discriminatory actions.
My mentor and former employer, the late attorney Sarah Weddington, presciently wrote in her book “A Question of Choice” about the need for more states to amend their constitutions to protect abortion rights in the event of a “Supreme Setback.” I spoke at her funeral earlier this year in Austin, Texas. Her message and warning were foremost in my mind as we took the amendment’s passage over the goal line.
When the Supreme Court was blessed with the presence of Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, she forthrightly stated, “The state controlling a woman would mean denying her full autonomy and full equality.”
The battle we are in is about women’s and men’s rights for generations to come. Let us work together to turn beacons of hope into wins for freedom.