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Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos. Photo: Karen DeWitt
Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos. Photo: Karen DeWitt

Women's health law shows a rift in NY Senate coalition

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A rift is appearing in the New York State Senate's new bipartisan leadership coalition. Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos says he's strongly opposed to Gov. Cuomo's reproductive health act, saying it would lead to too many late term abortions.

Pro-choice lawmakers and advocates say they disagree with the Senator's interpretation. And the leading Democrat in the leadersship council has been a strong supporter of the act.

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Karen DeWitt
NYS Capitol Correspondent

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Sen. Skelos first voiced his opposition to the governor's Reproductive Health Act at the state's Conservative party meeting, where some conservatives have been angered by the GOP leader's vote on strict gun control measures earlier in January.

Senator Skelos says the bill, which the governor presented as part of a larger Women's Equality Act, takes abortion too far.

"It is really an expansion of late-term abortion and partial-birth abortion," said Skelos. "That's the main accomplishment of this."

A coalition government is not turning Republicans into Democrats...It's trying to find common ground on important issues that we can get done.
Skelos says under his interpretation of the proposal, a woman could have an abortion up until the day that the child would be born, something Skelos says he thinks is "wrong". And he blames the "radical left" for what he says is an "extreme" measure.

The Senate GOP Leader says New York's current abortion laws, which have been on the books since 1970, are adequate.

Republicans co-lead the Senate with a group of breakaway Democrats. Many of the members of that group, the Independent Democratic Conference, support the Reproductive Health Act.

A visibly annoyed IDC Leader Senator Jeff Klein said he could not comment on remarks by Skelos that he had not heard personally. But Senator Klein, a longtime backer of the act first introduced under former Governor Elliot Spitzer, restated his support.

"I'm pro-choice and always have been," Klein said.

Senator Klein was at a bi-partisan press conference with some Senate Republicans to promote a tax credit for businesses who hire veterans. On that matter, the Republicans and Independent Democrats agree. Klein acknowledges that he and the GOP are not going to concur on everything.

"A coalition government is not turning Republicans into Democrats," Klein said. "It's trying to find common ground on important issues that we can get done."

Reproductive rights advocates disagree with Skelos' interpretation of the Reproductive Health Act. NARAL Pro-Choice America's Andrea Miller says New York's 1970 abortion rights law is antiquated, and does not contain many rights and protections in the Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision, which was decided three years later, in 1973. She says New York's law criminalizes any abortion after 24 weeks, even if the mother's health or life are threatened by bringing the pregnancy to term.

"That is all we are trying to do here, is make sure that the health of a woman, when she is pregnant, if something goes terribly wrong, the doctor can do what is best for her," said Miler. "And not have to question whether he has to read statute books."

Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins leads the rest of the Democrats in the Senate, who now have minority party status in the chamber. She agrees that Sen. Skelos is misinterpreting the reproductive health act.

"It's not just abortion on demand," said Stewart-Cousins, who says she's the mother of three children.

"For anyone to suggest that a woman who is seven or eight months pregnant just wakes up one morning and decides they don't want to have this baby anymore is really just demonstrating a lack of understanding," said Stewart-Cousins.

Independent Democratic conference Leader Sen. Klein concedes he'll need some of the rest of the Democrats in order to pass the reproductive health act. But he says not all of them are supporters. He says "at least two" would not vote for it.

Sen. Stewart-Cousins admits that a small number of Democrats would not vote for any bill that permits the right to choose abortion, because of their religious views, but she says the ultimate passage of the act does not have to be up to the Democrats. She says despite GOP Leader Skelos remarks, there's likely some Republican senators who would back the rest of the proposals in the Women's Equality package, and would, in the end, vote yes for the entire package.

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