5:38am

Wed June 5, 2013
Politics and Government

After weeks of waiting, Cuomo releases women's equality bill

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is finally releasing legislation for his 10-point women’s agenda. It includes a provision to codify the abortion rights in the federal Roe v. Wade decision into New York state law. The governor says he’s been offered no assurances that it will pass the legislature.

Hundreds of women from a long list of women’s groups came to the Capitol for rally featuring actor Cynthia Nixon, among others. The governor’s plan includes a zero tolerance policy on sexual harassment, equal pay provisions, and greater protections for victims of domestic violence and women forced into sex trafficking.

But it’s provision number 10 in the 10 point plan that’s garnered most of the attention -- a measure to write into New York state law the abortion rights protections spelled out in the1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v Wade. Nixon called it a no-brainer.

“Why would any state legislator not immediately sign on in support?” Nixon asked the crowd.“We are women, we are not children, how dare you presume to tell us what we can and cannot do with our bodies.”

The landmark Supreme Court decision permits abortions after the first 24 weeks of pregnancy if the fetus is not viable or the health or the life of the mother is threatened.  

Cuomo’s proposal also includes protections for health care providers who don’t want to perform abortions for moral or religious reasons. The governor, who has been working with women’s groups for weeks on the bill language, says the legislation is really very easy to understand.

“You’re pro-choice or you’re not pro-choice,” said Cuomo, who also said it was okay to disagree with this bill.

Opponents say it’s not that black and white.  Kathleen Gallagher, with the New York State Catholic Conference, says many, even in blue New York, are uncomfortable with late term abortions. And she says the state has the highest rate of the procedure in the nation.

“Clearly what the governor’s language is going to do is expand abortion in the state that least needs an expansion of abortion,” Gallagher said. “All elected officials whether they are pro-life or pro-choice, should be working to make abortion rare.”

The Rev. Jason McGuire, with the conservative Christian group New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedom, says other states have limited some access to late term abortions, and if New York adopts the language in Roe v. Wade, it could become a magnet for women from other states.  

“In essence, we are rolling out the red carpet for late term abortions,” McGuire said.

But the opinions of some of the state’s religious leaders are not the greatest obstacle that the governor’s plan faces.  Senate Republicans, who run the chamber in a power sharing agreement with a few Democrats, say they won't put the abortion provision on the floor for a vote. In a statement, a spokeswoman for Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos calls the abortion provision a “political maneuver designed to curry favor with the extremists who want to expand late-term abortion.”

Cuomo and the women advocates had been hoping to craft a bill that would attract three or four Republican senators. Democrats do not have enough votes by themselves. But the governor concedes that he’s been offered no guarantees.

“There are no assurances,” Cuomo said.  

The Senate Republican spokeswoman, Kelly Cummings, as well as the Catholic Conference's Gallagher say they support many of the other of the bills provisions and protections for women.  

The governor insists that he’s sticking to all of the 10 points in the agenda for now, but, when pressed by reporters, did not completely rule out separating the abortion measure from the rest.

“I don’t make promises,” Cuomo said.

Cynthia Nixon says the governor should not give up. “The governor can be a very powerful person,” said Nixon, who says 80 percent of New Yorkers back the provisions in Roe v Wade.

There are just over two weeks left until the official end of the legislative session, so there’s still time for a possible deal.
 

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