Albany Agenda

New York Democrats return to abortion in the hopes of galvanizing voters

The issue has yielded mixed results in a state where access is less threatened, but Democrats are giving it another shot on the 51st anniversary of Roe.

Gov Kathy Hochul, bottom left, shakes hands with state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins ahead of her State of the State address. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, left, and Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado, center, look on.

Gov Kathy Hochul, bottom left, shakes hands with state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins ahead of her State of the State address. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, left, and Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado, center, look on. NYS Senate Media Services

Monday marks the 51st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the now-overturned Supreme Court decision that created the right to an abortion. The 51st may not be an anniversary you would typically mark, but it does fall on an election year. Although New York has long had abortion rights codified in state law, state lawmakers will celebrate the occasion by approving additional measures to expand access to reproductive care as Democrats again hope that the issue will drive voters to the polls in November in ways it hasn’t in the past. 

New York already has some of the strongest abortion protections in the country, but state lawmakers annually see an opportunity to expand on reproductive rights. Especially after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the decision in 2022, it’s a risk-free issue for Democrats in the deep blue state. “It's our duty to ensure that New York remains a safe haven for individuals to make their own choices about their reproductive health,” said state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. “As trigger bans and sweeping restrictions are passed across the nation in the wake of the Dobbs decision, we knew that state legislatures would be on the front line of defense in this fight.”

The state Senate will approve bills that would create a grant program to help low-income New Yorkers access abortion care, allow pregnant people to enroll in the state health insurance exchange at any time without penalty and expand access to doulas. The Assembly will pass several of the same bills on Monday, though not the legislation to create the abortion access grant program, which died in the chamber last year. In addition to abortion rights, legislation also seeks to improve birth outcomes and combat maternal and infant mortality. “While we work to strengthen (abortion) protections, we must also work to protect mothers and babies from the concerning trend of maternal and infant mortality facing our state,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said in a statement.

Stewart-Cousins also highlighted the state-level Equal Rights Amendment New Yorkers will vote on in November that would enshrine abortion rights into the state constitution, among other civil rights protections. In the summer last year, Democrats announced a $20 million campaign focused on promoting the ballot initiative ahead of the 2024 elections, a complement to the $45 million effort by Democrats to flip six House seats in New York.

It’s a gamble for New York Democrats, who tried to run on abortion in their disastrous 2022 midterms. Although the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade resonated in other parts of the country to Democrats’ benefit, Republicans picked up several seats in New York that helped them win control of the House. Democratic Rep. Pat Ryan won a competitive special election earlier in 2022 after a heavy focus on abortion, but the messaging didn’t help most other Democrats come November. Party leaders even acknowledged New York didn’t benefit from the “abortion bump” that helped other states.

Democrats now hope that having abortion literally on the ballot, unlike in 2022 or last year when Republicans again performed well in key suburban areas of the state, will help drive voters to the polls like it has in other states. Voters protected abortion access in ballot measures in every state they’ve come up since the Dobbs decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, including deeply conservative states like Kansas and Kentucky.

The New Yorkers for Equal Rights Campaign, which is the coalition pushing for the constitutional amendment, has so far raised about $1.2 million of its $20 million goal. Campaign director Sasha Ahuja said they’re focused on fundraising at the start of the new year and continuing to build out their coalition. “We're very much so in the beginning of our fundraising work to bring the resources in, in an election year where the issue of abortion is top of mind for many people around the country,” Ahuja said. She added that ensuring voters “know and are educated” about the ballot initiative is one of the most important goals of the coalition, especially early in the year.

Update: This story has been updated to reflect that the Assembly is approving reproductive rights bills.

Correction: This story originally misstated the fundraising goal of the New Yorkers for Equal Rights Campaign.

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