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New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver dons a pink scarf at a Family Planning Advocates rally on Monday. Photo: Karen DeWitt
New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver dons a pink scarf at a Family Planning Advocates rally on Monday. Photo: Karen DeWitt

Cuomo, Dems push for Reproductive Health Act

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During the election season last year, legislators proposed new laws in states around the country to limit women's contraception and abortion rights.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is now heading in the opposite direction. During his state of the state speech last week, Cuomo announced plans to advance a women's agenda.

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Reported by

Julie Grant
Reporter and Producer

Cuomo's focus on women's rights was one of the more surprising announcements in last week's State of the State address. The governor listed a ten-point agenda, including ending sexual harassment in the workplace, strengthening order of protection laws, equal pay for equal work, and the centerpiece, to "protect a woman's freedom of choice, and enact the reproductive health act. Because it's her body, it's her choice."

Andrea Miller, president of NARAL Pro-Choice New York, was in the room for the state of the state. She was "just thrilled". She was in the room for the address, and "I was among those who were immediately on our feet in a raucous standing ovation that went on and on. For people who weren't there, it was truly an extraordinary moment."

The Reproductive Health Act as currently written makes abortion a public health concern, and moves it out of the criminal code. It gives women more latitude for late-term abortions, by allowing them not just to save the life of the mother, but also to protect the mother's health.

Not everyone was thrilled by Gov. Cuomo's announcement. Kathleen Gallagher didn't sleep well in the nights following the Governor's speech. She's head of the pro-life campaign at New York's Catholic Conference.

"Not all women in New York are applauding Governor Cuomo's so-called women's equality agenda. It's really a sham…He's tied his radical abortion expansion bill to all of these other laudable goals, like helping victims of domestic violence, and sex trafficking, and attaining pay equity, and stopping sexual harassment. He's a very smart politician."

Cuomo has mentioned the reproductive health act in his last two State of the State speeches. Last year, as the so-called war on women raged in many states, New York Democrats complained that Republicans wouldn't allow any legislation concerning women to be brought to the Senate floor.

But with President Barack Obama's win, and both parties sharing leadership in the state Senate, the war on women is no longer making headlines. Democratic Senate leader Jeff Klein has now made support of the Reproductive Health Act a litmus test for his party.

"This is an issue that defines whether or not you are a real Democrat in New York. And I believe that going forward it is no longer acceptable to elect representatives to the state Senate while blatantly attacking a woman's right to choose."

But to become law, the reproductive health act will need Republican support. This is similar to Cuomo's fight to approve same-sex marriage in New York. The governor campaigned for Republicans who supported it. But many still got hammered by the Conservative Party in last year's election. Some lost their seats.

Republican Janet Duprey represents Clinton and Franklin counties in the state assembly. She voted for same-sex marriage, and still won re-election.

Duprey says it's finally time to ensure women are safe to make their own health care decisions.

"It seems to me we should be done having these kinds of discussions."

The Reproductive Health Act has been around for six years. Enough time, that some lawmakers aren't sure what ended up in the final draft. One of the most divisive issues has been late-term abortion.

"This is a bill that specifically opens up late-term abortion."

Kathleen Gallagher of New York's Catholic Conference says current state law only allows an abortion after six months of pregnancy if the mother's life is at risk. The new law would also allow it if her health is in danger.

"Basically, 3rd trimester, late-term abortions of fully formed infants would be legal and accessible would be legal in this state, for virtually any reason."

NARAL Pro-Choice New York president Andrea Miller says late-term abortions would not be allowed for any reason. She says the bill would close a gap in the existing law.

"There is no exception if a woman's health is threatened later in her pregnancy, and she needs to terminate, and determines that ending that pregnancy is what's best for her and her family."

Once these and other details become known, State Conservative Party Chair Mike Long doesn't think the bill will get Republican support.

"I believe the Republicans will stay consistent. They voted against the Reproductive Rights Act in the past."

But Republican Assembly member Janet Duprey says the Reproductive Health Act may have a chance this year.

"Because one thing we know about this governor, when he wants something, he generally ends up being successful."

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