Women’s group pushing for ConCon as way to protect abortion rights

By Megan Sperry for the Legislative Gazette
Protesters march on West Capitol Park in Albany. The group formerly known as Women’s March NYC is calling on Gov. Cuomo to support abortion rights by supporting a “Yes” vote on the constitutional convention

A group that evolved from Women’s March NYC is now urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo to help push for a constitutional convention in New York as a way to guarantee abortion rights.

Forward March New York, formerly Women’s March NYC, announced Monday, in a letter to Cuomo, their support for a “Yes” vote on a constitutional convention, and they are calling for the governor to do the same.

“The current political climate in Washington D.C. and the tipping of the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of conservatives have made it vital for us to reaffirm women’s reproductive rights in New York,” the letter states.

FMNY is a nonprofit organization seeking to empower the women of New York state by advocating for changes to the political system. The group announced Monday they sent a letter to Governor Cuomo urging him to back the proposed constitutional convention.

New York’s voters will have the option this November to call a constitutional convention by casting a “Yes” or “No” vote on a ballot question. If the electorate votes in favor, delegates will be elected the following year, in November 2018, with the convention itself coming the following April. Any changes to the state Constitution decided by the delegates will be sent to the voters for approval upon the completion of the convention.

In 1970, New York lifted its law banning abortions that had been in place since 1830, allowing the termination of pregnancies of up to 24 weeks. In the more than four decades since, legal challenges have failed due to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision of 1973. Forward March is concerned, that with the makeup of the Supreme Court now favoring conservatives, New Yorker’s access to safe abortions may be at risk.

Forward March New York has reminded the governor of his previous commitment to a constitutional amendment to permanently protect a women’s right to choose in New York.

“You [Governor Cuomo] have voiced your interest in amending the state constitution to protect women’s reproductive rights,” the letter points out.

The governor made announced in January his support for permanently protection of the reproductive rights of women in New York state through a constitutional amendment. FMNY agrees, but does not share the governor’s optimism that such a measure could make it through both houses of the Legislature, given Republican’s control of the Senate.

Although Gov. Cuomo expressed support for codification of Roe v. Wade at the state level in his 2016 agenda book, nothing has come of it.

His position on a constitutional convention is unclear but he did raise some questions about the process during a press conference in June, signaling to some that he believes that moving a bill through the Legislature would be the most practical route, if the delegates are going to come from the existing body of legislators anyway.

“That process is daunting, and the political gridlock that exists in Albany offers no comfort to any New York citizen. In light of this, the only way to protect women’s rights in this state is to put the power back into their hands,” states the letter from FMNY to Cuomo. “You can do this by endorsing and fully supporting a ‘Yes’ vote for a constitutional convention when it appears on the electoral ballot this coming November.”

This endorsement of a convention breaks with Planned Parenthood’s lobbying arm, Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts organization, which Forward March New York mentions by name in the letter, quoting Kim Atkins of PPESA who said, “With a constitutional amendment, [reproductive rights] will be guaranteed by the state constitution so that it cannot be stripped away, no matter what happens at the federal level.”

Planned Parenthood has aligned itself with New Yorkers Against Corruption, a conglomerate of statewide interest groups, in calling for a “No” vote on a convention. That coalition is concerned, they say, that a convention will be commandeered by lawmakers, endangering some hard-fought rights and protections.

However, Forward March New York believes the best way to amend the Constitution is through a people’s convention, not relying on lawmakers to approve one.