By Tandy Lau
As New York lawmakers move to shield abortion access, a proposed bill aimed at maintaining reproductive rights highlights the absence of protections from governmental discrimination based on ethnicity/national origin, age, gender/gender identity, disability and sexuality in the state’s constitution. The Equality Rights Amendment, which passed its first legislative session earlier this summer, would expand protected classes from just race and religion to the aforementioned categories.
“In a moment of widespread polarization, New York is working to enshrine into our very Constitution that no matter who you love, where you come from, or how you choose to express yourself, you are welcome here and we will protect you,” said Gov. Kathy Hochul in a statement last month.
And while the proposed bill comes directly on the heels of Roe v. Wade’s overturn, Kelli Owens, executive director of NYS Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, says the definition of bodily autonomy is broader than just reproductive rights.
“[It] could mean rights for the transgender community, it certainly means something for the domestic violence community,” said Owens. “It means that you have the right to your own autonomy—the way you want to protect yourself and how you want to live your life. A really important piece of this amendment that you don’t see in other similar amendments across the country [is] a lot of it is very focused on gender, but this is very inclusive around gender expression, and gender identity and autonomy.”
Additionally, she says reproductive rights play a large role in domestic violence. According to Owens, a quarter of cases involve reproductive coercion and one-sixth of women victims say they were pregnant during the abuse.
The Equality Rights Amendment will need to pass another, consecutive legislative session before voters can find it on a ballot. Until then, Owens hopes folks stay informed.
“This process is put in place to make sure that when we amend our constitution, we’re amending it with the broadest possible support from the legislature, but also the public,” she said. “[I think] it’s gonna take a long time to educate the public on what this equality amendment means so that when it gets to the ballot, people are ready to vote for it.”
The New York State Domestic and Sexual Violence Hotline is available 24/7, toll-free, and can be reached at 800-942-6906 (phone) and 844-997-2121 (text).
Tandy Lau is a Report for America corps member and writes about public safety for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w