New York State

Building the strategy to pass an Equal Rights Amendment in New York

The ballot amendment would enshrine additional protections in the state constitution.

The state Equal Rights Amendment could propel voters to the polls in November.

The state Equal Rights Amendment could propel voters to the polls in November. Ira L. Black/Corbis via Getty Images

Abortion rights activists gathered in midtown Manhattan at the headquarters of 1199SEIU on Thursday to start the campaign to pass the state Equal Rights Amendment. Although the overturning of Roe v. Wade in June 2022 failed to galvanize New York Democrats in the November elections that year, organizers are confident that recent high-profile court cases will get New Yorkers listening.

Several dozen volunteers and organizers from states around the country gathered to kick off a series of similar actions to strategize how to get the word out about the state constitutional amendment on the ballot that would enshrine the right to an abortion, among other civil rights. The event was part of a $20 million effort launched by organizers to promote the constitutional amendment that will be on the ballot in November. The campaign is still in its relatively early stages, as the state still has primary elections to hold in April for president and in June for Congress and the state Legislature. But campaign director Sasha Ahuja told City & State that energizing volunteers early is crucial in order to hit the ground running in the summer when the campaign ramps up.

That energy is especially important for attracting donors to help hit the $20 million goal. “One thing that we know, there have been lots of announcements of big, ambitious things in New York, and we want to make sure folks really see and feel our efforts on the ground,” Ahuja said. Conversations with donors are ongoing even as organizers begin strategizing with a broad coalition of volunteers from groups like 1199SEIU, the NAACP New York Conference, Make the Road New York, New York Civil Liberties Union, League of Women Voters and Planned Parenthood.

The organizing event also comes in the wake of national backlash around an Alabama Supreme Court ruling that effectively halted in vitro fertilization treatments in the state. The court found that an embryo is a person under state law. That created complications since IVF treatments typically create many embryos, only a few of which get implanted. The others could be frozen or discarded.

“The ruling on IVF was incredibly frightening for so many people, I think folks realize that everything is up for grabs,” Ahuja said. She recounted a recent meeting with the group Eleanor’s Legacy, which supports women candidates for office, in which members spoke about the importance of the campaign relaying to parents that “all of this is on the table.”

Although it only impacts Alabama, the implication of the IVF ruling has politicians from around the country sweating – particularly in New York. Rep. Marc Molinaro, a first-term Republican in the Hudson Valley, became the first member of his party to support a Democratic-led bill to protect IVF last week. Fellow Hudson Valley Republican Rep. Mike Lawler became the second GOP member to sign onto the bill a few days later.

The U.S. Supreme Court is also set to hear oral arguments in two closely watched cases that could greatly restrict access to the abortion drug mifepristone, which could serve to further energize voters in a state where voters otherwise feel as though their rights are protected.

Although much of the messaging around the state Equal Rights Amendment elevates abortion rights, it also would enshrine a slew of other rights into the state constitution, including protections against discrimination based on gender and gender identity. And New York has taken a surprising recent turn into the spotlight of the culture war around transgender issues. Nassau County made national headlines when Executive Bruce Blakeman instituted a ban on trans female athletes competing on women’s teams at county-run facilities. Earlier this week, he invited conservative trans celebrity Caitlyn Jenner to speak in support of his ban. And just Wednesday night, Manhattan’s largest public school district passed a resolution that could similarly ban trans girls from participating in women’s sports.

“People talk about New York as blue, blue, blue, but we’re really kind of purple, purple, purple,” Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, told City & State. She said those controversies could help to energize angry New Yorkers who assume that New York has strong civil rights protections in place to enshrine those rights in an even more permanent manner in the state constitution. “Discrimination doesn’t really respect state lines, and bigotry doesn’t respect state lines,” she said.