The Reproductive Services Act
The Reproductive Services Act updates New York law to clearly protect the core rights established in Roe v. Wade. This bill aligns New York law with federal precedent and current medical practice. In 1970, New York amended its penal code section that criminalized abortion to add an exception to what was considered a ‘justifiable abortion.’ Prior to that amendment, abortion was only ‘justifiable’ to preserve a woman’s life.
The 1970 amendment to New York’s penal code legalized abortions performed within 24 weeks of the commencement of pregnancy. In 1973, the US Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, 410 US 113 (1973), stated that women have a constitutional right to obtain an abortion prior to fetal viability and, thereafter, in order to protect their life or health. Since that time, the health exception has been read into New York law. Without a health exception, treatment cannot be provided until a woman’s health has seriously deteriorated. In no way does the Reproductive Services Act expand the time frame during which an abortion can be legally obtained in New York, and it does not override existing federal restrictions on abortion, including the federal partial birth abortion ban, codified under 18 U.S.C. section 1531.
Paid Family Leave Insurance Act
Under current state law, workers in New York State have no legal right to paid leave in the event that they need to provide for a new, or newly adopted, child, or an ill family member. Unfortunately, most employers do not provide this benefit voluntarily. Low- Income workers are disproportionately impacted by this burden.
In fact, the highest 10% of wage earners are six times more likely to have paid family leave than the lowest 10% of wage earners. Without the ability to access paid family leave, workers may be forced to take unpaid leave or temporarily depart the workforce to provide care. This can leave workers in the untenable position of having to choose between the care of a family member and the economic well being of their family. Paid family leave has been shown to allow parents to recover from childbirth, bond with new children, and better meet the health needs of their families. Paid leave also allows workers to support the health needs of elderly family members. Family Planning Advocates supports legislation to promote economic empowerment and strengthen the health and well being of New York families.
The “Boss Bill”
Following the United States Supreme Court’s unfortunate decision in the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. case, it has become exceedingly clear that we must work harder than ever to ensure that an employer’s personal beliefs don’t trump a worker’s access to reproductive health care.
The Boss Bill would protect an employee from retaliation based on the reproductive health care they choose to access, regardless of their boss’s personal feelings on the matter. If a worker is denied coverage for certain drugs, products, or procedures, they must be able to access that health care on their own without fear of retaliation.
This legislation is necessary to protect the rights of workers in New York and their ability to access the health care they need. New York has demonstrated its commitment to protecting employees from workplace discrimination in the past, and it is now time to ensure that reproductive health matters are covered within these protections.
Women’s Equality Agenda Provisions Currently in the Assembly
The following provisions of the Women’s Equality Agenda (WEA) have been passed in the Senate and introduced in the Assembly. They are expected to be voted on by the end of session. We strongly support all of the provisions of the WEA, as each plank addresses a separate portion of a woman’s life in which New York law has failed to keep up. Passage of these pieces of legislation is crucial for the advancement of women’s equality in New York State. We are working tirelessly to advance reproductive justice for the women of this state, and the social and economic equality that would be advanced by pay equity, pregnancy accommodations, and protection from sexual harassment are fundamental to this goal.
Wage disparity between genders has long been an issue in the United States and is fundamentally at odds with the aim of gender equality. In New York State, women make, on average, 86 cents for every dollar a man makes. This gap widens when you look at Upstate New York versus New York City. For example, women in the Capitol Region make, on average, 78.5 cents for every dollar a man makes. This gap becomes significantly wider when looking at women of color in New York State, who make, on average, 56 cents for every dollar made by a white male. In addition, this gap also becomes significantly wider when comparing women across New York State, like in Broome County where women earn 75 cents, and in the Buffalo Metro Area where women earn 77 cents, for every dollar a man makes in each respective region.
This legislation would work to close a loophole in the labor law that allows for a differential in pay based on sex, and would prohibit employers from adopting policies that discourage sharing information regarding earnings – a policy that some studies have found to lead to a larger wage gap, and that often prevent the discovery of said gap. Pay differential based on gender inhibits women from achieving the same level of economic independence as their male counterparts and has a detrimental effect on not only individuals, but society as a whole. It is long past time for New York State legislation to be updated to reflect the increased contribution of women to the economy and the workforce, and to outlaw this blatant example of gender discrimination.
Pregnant women working in physically demanding fields require reasonable accommodations such as increased bathroom breaks, the ability to be seated rather than standing, and temporary relief from lifting. All of these accommodations are necessary for the health of the woman and her fetus, and decrease the risk of pre-term delivery and low birth weight. Often, when these modifications are not provided, women are forced to leave their jobs or take unpaid leave in order to protect their health, and given that women are primary or co-breadwinners in 64% of American families, such a loss of income could prove detrimental to a woman and her family.
Studies show that 75% of women will become pregnant over the course of their working lives. It is a basic right for these women to be able to safely support themselves and their families. They absolutely should not be forced to choose between their health and their economic security. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act was certainly a step in the right direction, but, over 30 years later, it’s time for the next step. New York State must pass legislation to ensure that pregnant women have access to reasonable accommodations. We strongly support this legislation as economic independence and the ability to protect one’s own health are essential to advancing gender equality.
Sexual Harassment Prevention
Despite the protections under Title VII of the 1964 Federal Civil Rights Act, New York State Human Rights Law and, in some instances, local law, a key group of employees are unprotected in the workplace in regards to sexual harassment and left behind in the eyes of the law. Under current New York State law, the only employees who can file a complaint for sexual harassment are those who are working for employers with more than 4 employees. Since more than 60% of private employers in New York State have fewer than 4 employees, there is a significant portion of the state that is being ignored and this needs to be addressed. This is a serious problem that affects men and women, but that is often most keenly felt by women.
Sexual harassment unfortunately occurs in all levels of the workforce, from small businesses to large, and because of this all workers need to have equal protections under the law. Current protections paved the way for combating workplace discrimination, but it’s time for the next step. New York State must pass legislation to ensure that all employees have equal access to legislation committed to making the workplace an environment people want to be and feel comfortable being in. We strongly support this legislation as economic independence and the ability to report one’s own experiences are essential to advancing gender equality and reducing gender discrimination.
The Remaining Provisions of the Women’s Equality Agenda
Three additional pieces of the Women’s Equality Agenda (WEA) that the Senate has passed and that are waiting to be introduced in the Assembly relate to Attorney’s fees for victims of gender discrimination, family status discrimintation in the workplace, and housing discrimination against victims of domestic violence.
Attorney’s Fees for Victims of Gender Discrimination
Under existing law, plaintiffs in credit, employment, and lending sex discrimination cases cannot be awarded attorney’s fees after successfully proving their case. This means that victims of sex discrimination are faced with steep fees if they choose to bring cases against the party discriminating against them, and are unable to mitigate them in any way. This becomes prohibitive for many victims, causing them to forgo seeking damages, and allowing for a cycle of discrimination to continue. This legislation would amend existing law to ensure that victims who are discriminated against based on gender in relation to housing, credit, or employment, and who successfully win their court case, are able to collect attorney’s fees from the guilty party.
Family Status Discrimination in the Workplace
Current New York State Human Rights Law does not include provisions that safeguard workers from discrimination based on their familial status. This means that employees are faced with the possibility of being denied promotions, passed over for raises, or otherwise discriminated against in the workplace simply because of their status as a parent. The lack of legal protections for mothers and fathers leaves parents vulnerable to unfair firing practices, job rejections, and lower salaries. This legislation would amend existing law to prohibit discrimination in employment based on familial status. This bill is the safeguard New York parents need to continue to support their children.
Housing Discrimination Against Victims of Domestic Violence
No law currently exists to prohibit landlords from refusing to rent to a person based on their status as a victim of domestic violence. Access to housing is a basic component in achieving economic independence, a goal that the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NYSCADV) recognizes as being indispensable to safety. A lack of economic independence forces victims to remain dependent on their abusers, thus making it impossible for them to remove themselves from dangerous living situations. It is past time that legislation was put in place to assist women in leaving their abusers with the knowledge that they will be able to find housing elsewhere.