The New York ERA will protect our rights


One hundred years have now passed since the original Equal Rights Amendment was first introduced on the federal level. On Nov. 5, we New Yorkers will decide whether to modernize our own state Constitution. Currently, that Constitution protects only against racial and religious discrimination. It does not prohibit discrimination against groups that have been historically targeted, including those with disabilities, LGBTQ people, women and immigrants. This measure lands on the ballot after legislation to push it forward passed both houses of the State Legislature in two successive terms.

Responding to the challenges of our day, the New York ERA goes far beyond protecting people based solely on their gender. It will add the following to the list of protected classes for which discrimination in civil rights is prohibited: ethnicity, national origin, age, disability, sex, including sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, pregnancy, pregnancy outcomes, and reproductive health care and autonomy.

With its more expansive set of inclusions, the New York ERA is absolutely needed, because Americans’ rights are under fierce attack. Following the disgraceful Dobbs decision reversing Roe v. Wade by a rightist Supreme Court, the Alabama Supreme Court issued a ruling that halted in vitro fertilization treatment by subjecting health care providers to criminal prosecution. That is just one of countless red-state actions gutting the rights of women and the rights of families.

Never before in our history has a Supreme Court brazenly eviscerated a fundamental and established constitutional and human right. That must serve as a warning to all of us.

While protecting abortion access is now critical, the New York ERA will enshrine protections for pregnancy and all pregnancy outcomes. Increasingly across our nation, women face criminal and civil consequences for their pregnancy outcomes, including miscarriage and stillbirth. The New York ERA fittingly includes pregnancy outcomes to protect against punishment and prosecution.

Internationally recognized Princeton Professor Linda Colley has written an outstanding account of constitutional history. In “The Gun, The Ship and the Making of the Modern World,” Colley cites Founding Father Thomas Paine’s observation that “A Constitution is not the act of a government, but of a people constituting a government, and a government without a constitution is a power without right.”

Every American of good faith knows that our Constitution is the foundation of our democracy. We New Yorkers have our own proud constitutional history. Notably, our first state Constitution was enacted in 1777, 12 years before the adoption of the federal Constitution.

While modified several times, New York’s Constitution has been a beacon of protection for our citizens. To protect New Yorkers in the wake of the Dobbs decision, we must now include a greater range of personal rights in our Constitution. We will have that opportunity when we vote on Nov. 5. The ERA referendum is on the back of the ballot. All we need to do is flip the ballot to vote on it.

As the Assembly’s Judiciary Committee chair, I am very proud to have played a role in providing for the upcoming vote.

When he hosted a historic dinner for Nobel Prize winners, President John F. Kennedy said that there hadn’t been such an “extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that (had) ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.” Colley has Jefferson in mind when she quotes our third president: “Tho written constitutions may be violated in moments of passion or delusion, yet they furnish a text to which those who are watchful may again rally & recall the people.”

Election Day in November presents us with our chance to be watchful and to protect our people by passing the New York ERA.

Charles Lavine represents the 13th Assembly District.