Now that the state budget is in place, lawmakers can turn their attention to more controversial end-of-session issues. That means a return to one of the more contentious items that failed at the end of last year’s session; the Women’s Equality Agenda.
The Women’s Equality Agenda is a ten-point plan that deals with several women’s issues, including a call for equal pay, the end of sexual harassment in workplaces and the strengthening of human sex trafficking laws.
It’s not these issues that has lawmakers at an impasse, but the tenth point which would, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, protect a woman’s freedom of choice by putting New York’s abortion law in line with existing U.S. Supreme Court law, or codifying it. Last year, the Assembly passed the whole bill, while the state Senate passed a bill that left out the abortion component.
Family Planning Advocates of New York President Tracy Brooks says that is still not acceptable.
“The number of issues that we have in the Women’s Equality Act completely build on each other, and any one of them missing doesn’t provide women with what they need," Brooks said. "The issue is the laws haven’t kept pace with women, and the abortion component is the most obvious of all of them.”
The Assembly has approved it again this year, so now supporters are looking for some state senators to change their votes. Family Planning Advocates of New York is one group lobbying for the omnibus bill, and Brooks thinks things will be different this year.
“We have a longer period of time to be working with members about the fact that really just codifying what we already have in federal law, which applies here in the state of New York, which therefore means this is in absolutely no way an expansion of services in New York," Brooks explains. "It’s merely codifying what already exists and ensuring we are in the public health law, instead of the criminal code.”
She also says it needs to be included in the legislation so New York's law won’t be upended if there are changes to the abortion law on the federal level.
“There is a lot of significant negative action happening in Washington and New York needs to stand up and be the leader that we’ve always been on women’s issues and say, in New York, women need to make decisions which are best to them, whether it’s economic stability or access to health care," Brooks said. "And that’s what the Women’s equality Agenda is all about.”
The Roman Catholic Church and other organizations continue to oppose the abortion piece of the Women’s Equality Agenda, contending that codifying the law would ultimately allow late term abortions. They’re also concerned that taking abortion out of the scope of criminal law and into the health department would allow non-physicians to perform abortions.
But Brooks says those interpretations of the change are not accurate, a point they’ll make to targeted lawmakers.
"There are a number of them we are working with very closely right now, to help come along and feel more comfortable in the fact that we’re not changing the law, but securing the law,” Brooks said.
The church supports the other nine portions of the act.