The New York State Capitol in Albany on Feb. 25.

The New York State Capitol in Albany on Feb. 25. Credit: Newsday / William Perlman

A midlevel court on Tuesday put New York’s proposed abortion rights amendment back on the ballot this fall, dismissing a Republican lawsuit that it said was filed too late.

The Rochester-based Appellate Division, Fourth Department, unanimously overturned a previous ruling that had ordered the proposed amendment stricken from the ballot.

The appellate court said a lawsuit filed by Republican Assemb. Marjorie Byrnes of Livingston County was filed long after the time period allowed for challenging ballot status.

The proposed amendment is scheduled to be voted on by New Yorkers this fall. It would, among other things, enshrine abortion rights in the New York constitution at a time when other states are seeking to restrict access to abortion services.

Republicans could appeal Tuesday’s decision to New York’s top court and seek an expedited decision, given Election Day is relatively close.

But as it stands now, the appellate decision is a big win for Democrats, who not only support the amendment widely but also hope its appearance on the ballot helps their candidates, especially in congressional elections.

“This is a huge victory in our efforts to protect access to abortion in New York and to protect many vulnerable communities from discrimination,” said Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat who defended the state in the Republican lawsuit, in a statement.

Assembly Republicans didn’t comment immediately.

The Democrats win turned on what could be called a technical flaw — somewhat like the Republican victory in this case in a lower legal venue.

The push for the statewide amendment began in 2022, just days after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Roe v. Wade decision, which had guaranteed federal abortion rights for nearly 50 years. Though New York had a strong abortion rights statute, Democrats wanted to enshrine those rights in the constitution.

As per the state constitution, the State Senate and Assembly had to approve the proposed amendment twice to get it on the ballot; the chambers did so in 2022 and 2023.

Democrats strategically chose to put it on the 2024 ballot instead of 2023 because it's a presidential election year in which turnout is always better and because the abortion issue could help Democrats in swing congressional districts.

Critics of the amendment said it not only focused on abortion rights, but also would allow transgender females to compete in girls' athletic events.

Assemb. Byrnes (R-Caledonia), filing a lawsuit in her home county of Livingston, sought to block the amendment referendum.

Justice Daniel J. Doyle, a Supreme Court judge in Livingston County, ruled the Democratic-led State Legislature erred when it voted to place the amendment on the ballot before either getting an opinion from the state attorney general or, if no opinion was forthcoming, waiting 20 days before voting.

Doyle ordered the proposed amendment stricken from the ballot.

His ruling was overturned Tuesday in a 5-0 decision.

In doing so, the appellate division said Byrnes had waited too long to sue. The court said Byrnes had to file a claim within four months of the legislature approving the amendment in July 2022. Byrnes filed the lawsuit in October 2023.

Some of the court’s ruling centered on the type of legal proceeding Byrnes brought, but the bottom line was the court’s conclusion: “The sole cause of action here is subject to the four-month statute of limitations and is time-barred.”

Democrats applauded the outcome.

“We are gratified that the courts dismissed this frivolous case that was brought forward by Republican extremists looking to block equal rights right here in New York,” said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) in a statement.

Last month, it was Republicans who were cheering, saying Democrats rushed and botched the amendment process.

A pro-amendment advocacy group, New Yorkers for Equal Rights, called Tuesday’s ruling a “win for all New Yorkers.”

“This November, New Yorkers will be able to vote to protect our fundamental rights and reproductive freedoms — including abortion,” the group said.

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