Goodell questions equal rights amendment

New York lawmakers are halfway to placing an equal rights amendment on the ballot for state voters.

After passage of the resolution last week, the same piece of legislation must be passed during the next legislative session and then approved by state voters in a statewide vote. Initial passage came Friday after Gov. Kathy Hochul issued a proclamation adding the resolution to the state Legislature’s extraordinary session agenda as a response to the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade that removed federal protections for abortion. If enacted, the amendment will add ethnicity, national origin, age, disability, and sex, including sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, pregnancy outcomes, and reproductive health care and autonomy to existing protections that currently cover discrimination based on race, color, religion or creed.

The proposed amendment, which would also preserve gender expression rights, passed in the Senate on Friday by a 49-14 vote. The Assembly approved it 98-43. Under the state’s amendment process, lawmakers would have to pass it again during next year’s session to send it to voters in a statewide referendum. Both Assemblymen Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, Joe Giglio, R-Gowanda, and Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, voted against the legislation.

Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, said on the Assembly floor each of those protections is already included in various sections of state law, and he questioned what the amendment would mean specifically for Catholic Church-backed hospitals, insurance programs and health care providers.

See RIGHTS, Page A5

“We recognize we’ve always recognized that some religions have very strong, and in their view, very legitimate reasons to oppose abortion,” he said. “The Catholic Church won’t do abortions. Their insurance won’t cover abortions. Their hospitals won’t do abortions. This language purports to require them to do so because it says you cannot discriminate against anyone based on their reproductive health care autonomy. So if this language goes into effect as a constitutional amendment, presumably, it would be unconstitutional for the Catholic Church to require treatment for someone who’s violating their basic tenets on reproductive health.”

State law currently allows abortions up to the 24th week of pregnancy, and the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization has little practical effect in New York state other than more non-New York residents coming into the state for abortion procedures. Assemblywoman Monica Wallace, D-Lancaster, also said legislation introduced by Republicans in the state Legislature is one reason to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution.

“This is an extremely important resolution in the week of the fall of Roe where women who have enjoyed the right to safe and legal reproductive health care for 50 years lost it in the blink of an eye,” Wallace said. “What changed? Did public opinion change? No. Did science change? No. The only thing that changed was the makeup of the United States Supreme Court. That doesn’t mean their decision was right. It just means they were the last to have a word to say something about it, at least for now. In the meantime, here in New York, we will protect our women in our state. We will protect our LGBTQ friends and neighbors. People keep asking, ‘Why do we need this? We already have these protections in New York.’ Well, that’s because every single day, members of this body are introducing legislation to continue to chip away at the codifications that we have already enacted. This will enshrine the protections in the constitution.”

Supporters say the proposed amendment would protect existing affirmative action programs like the state’s Minority and Women Business Enterprise program and also make clear that its protections do not interfere with, limit or deny other people’s civil rights based on any characteristic identified in the amendment.

But one of Goodell’s criticisms of the resolution as written is how it places protected classes in conflict with each other. The Jamestown Republican specifically mentioned federal Title 9 programs that require the availability of women’s sports teams, the existence of all-female colleges and the existence of all-male or all-female social organizations.

“Look, (discrimination is) either good or its bad,” Goodell said. “I think it’s bad, but even I acknowledge there are some situations where it’s probably good, like all-women’s sports or all-mens’ sports or all-women’s colleges or all-men colleges. We recognize that. Then, to top it off, and I agree with the sponsor on this, the sponsor says we don’t need this language because it’s already covered by law. But here’s the difference. The law can be fine-tuned. Right? We do it all the time, don’t we? We start every year with 20 to 30 chapter amendments fine tuning what we did the previous year. And that’s good because we want to have that flexibility. So we have in front of us proposed constitutional language that is unnecessary, that creates a lot of controversy with sincerely held religious views, that does not include any language that includes those exemptions …”


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