New York State Assembly Passes Women’s Equality Act

The ten-point agenda would codify a woman's right to choose an abortion, attempt to reduce gender-based pay discrimination, and strengthen protections for survivors of abuse.

The New York State Assembly chamber. Wikipedia

On Monday, the New York State Assembly passed an omnibus bill known as the Women’s Equality Act, a ten-point agenda that would codify a woman’s right to choose an abortion, attempt to reduce gender-based pay discrimination, and strengthen protections for survivors of abuse.

The same bill was introduced and passed the state assembly last year, but it failed in the face of anti-choice opposition in the state senate. Anti-choice Democrats joined Republicans to split the bill into ten parts and pass only nine, leaving out the abortion plank. Assembly members then refused to allow a vote on the remains of the act because some considered it an unacceptably watered-down version.

“I think a lot of people are shocked to hear that the measures that are being proposed are not already law,” National Organization for Women (NOW) NYC President Sonia Ossorio told Rewire. “It points to the fact that there remain gaping loopholes in the law that allow for discrimination to flourish.”

NOW is one of more than 850 organizations and businesses that have banded together as the NY Women’s Equality Coalition to support passing the law in full, including the abortion provisions.

The portions of the law addressing gender-based discrimination would close loopholes in equal pay laws, outlaw discrimination against parents in the workplace (currently parents are protected against only housing or credit discrimination), allow people who win sex-discrimination lawsuits to collect attorney’s fees, and require bosses to grant pregnant workers reasonable requests like a stool to sit on or more frequent restroom breaks.

Another measure would extend sexual harassment protections to those who work at small businesses with fewer than four employees. Ossorio noted that such businesses make up 60 percent of private employers in New York state, and that “it’s precisely the women who are working in tiny offices where there is no human resources department or an immediate supervisor who you can go to” who need the most protection.

Several provisions address domestic violence or abuse situations. One would increase penalties against human traffickers and ensure that human trafficking survivors can use their victimization as a defense against prostitution charges. Other measures would allow survivors of intimate partner violence to testify in court remotely and to gain access to fair housing.

The abortion provision ensures that women can get an abortion within 24 weeks of pregnancy or to protect her life or health, even if Roe v. Wade is overturned in the Supreme Court and women nationwide no longer have a constitutional right to an abortion. It also protects physicians who perform abortions from criminal prosecution.

“All of these issues are related,” said Ossorio. “A woman’s reproductive rights are just as related to how she can care for her family as discrimination in the workplace. Connecting the dots on women’s equality is important.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) made the legislation one of his priorities last year and restated his support this year.