ITHACA, N.Y.—After the revelatory U.S. Supreme Court draft majority opinion to strike down Roe v. Wade was leaked to POLITICO on May 2, the seemingly strong possibility of constitutional protections disappearing for a woman’s right to receive an abortion has led some states, like New York, to consider their own laws to cement the right within their borders. And the progressive stronghold of Ithaca is also looking at what it can do too.

At Wednesday’s City Administration Committee meeting, Committee Chair Alderperson Robert Cantelmo presented an amendment to add an article to the Human Rights Protection chapter in the City’s Municipal Code titled “Protection of Reproductive Rights.”

The amendment reads “recognizing the importance of reproductive healthcare as a matter of health, privacy and equity.” The new article would prevent city resources like employees, officers or property to be utilized for detaining anyone for performing or aiding in an abortion within New York State. The amendment would also prevent City personnel from “cooperating with or providing information” to out-of-state agencies or departments regarding a lawful abortion performed in New York State.

“In moving forward with something like this, we are maintaining a commitment to a right that has existed to the entire country for longer than I’ve been alive,” Cantelmo said. “In the same way that this city has declared itself a sanctuary city, I would like to envision us as being very clear that we’re a community that believes in reproductive freedom and the right of an individual to have autonomy over their own body.”

Alderperson Jorge Defendini followed Cantelmo’s statement with a whole-hearted agreement, but added on his own condemnation of the top levels of government, particularly the Democratic party’s leadership in the state and in Washington D.C., calling it incompetent, and “asleep at the wheel” while having majority control.

“All politics is local by my estimate, and so this is something that we should be doing,” Defendini said. 

The amendment was presented as a discussion item, although it quickly became evident that the majority of the committee was ready to change it from a discussion to a voting item, which would require a unanimous vote from the five-member body to do so. 

However, Alderperson George McGonigal requested more time to “study” the amendment. The basis of the amendment, McGonigal said, “I wholeheartedly agree with, but this is a long, complex piece of writing.” 

He later added, “I don’t want to be pilloried as opposed to this. I just want to study it more.”

Ithaca’s Acting Mayor Laura Lewis hugs another rally goer on the Ithaca Commons, where over a hundred people showed up on May 14 to protest the Supreme Court’s leaked draft decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. (05/15/2022) Credit: Casey Martin / The Ithaca Voice

As a result, the amendment will likely appear as a voting item at the committee’s June meeting, which Chair Cantelmo seemed amenable to. If it is passed at that meeting, it would then be voted on at Common Council’s July 1 meeting.

One of McGonigal’s immediate questions about the amendment was whether other states or agencies from out of state can require New Yorkers to share medical information, which City Attorney Ari Lavine confirmed that “criminal proceedings in one state can sometimes seek to employ information from outside that state.”

Lavine continued, “There can be subpoenas, and so on, that go ahead and seek information from outside that state, and seek cooperation of law enforcement agents outside that state as well. And so, I believe that is what this ordinance would be targeted at.”

Alderperson Jeffrey Barken, who was ready to vote the amendment into becoming a voting item, did raise the point of whether municipalities should be preemptive if broader state action to ensure the protection of abortion rights is “anticipated.”

“Whether the state does decide to move forward with this — excellent. I hope they do. Until that time, I would say that my view is that it is important for us to extend whatever protections we can to the people who are living in this city,” said Cantelmo.

Jimmy Jordan

Jimmy Jordan is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact him at jjordan@ithacavoice.com Connect with him on Twitter @jmmy_jrdn