Women’s rights package scuttled in state Legislature
Abortion bill derails overall proposal
CAPITOL A series of major bills that would protect women’s rights at work, at home and when they face domestic violence was derailed Friday over a contentious late-term abortion proposal.
Senate Republicans defeated a surprise amendment that would have forced the chamber to consider the abortion measure, which was part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s women’s equality act. The Senate had planned to pass the nine other bills in the act.
But Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, moments after the Senate vote, said the Assembly won’t consider the nine bills, which address discrimination and abuse, without the abortion measure.
“In consultation with the women members of the Legislature who are driving the train on this … we will have a dialogue with the governor on how to proceed,” Silver told The Associated Press as he was leaving the Capitol on the last day of the 2013 session.
Silver said the decision by the state Senate was “wrong. I think it’s a mistake, and I think it shows clearly where they stand.”
The measure was billed by supporters as simply matching 1970 state law with the less restrictive Roe v. Wade decision of 1973. The federal law allows abortion until a fetus is viable outside the womb or if the woman’s health is threatened. State law had allowed the risky late-term abortions only if a woman’s life was in danger. Supporters wanted the state law to match federal law because they fear the federal law will be struck down.
Democratic Sen. Jeff Klein, who proposed the procedural move that was defeated, said he didn’t know that Silver wouldn’t take up the remainder of the women’s agenda, which he hoped would be approved by both chambers Friday night.
“That is absolutely the wrong decision. I didn’t hear about that decision,” said Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference that shares majority control of the Senate with Republicans. “I hope the speaker will change his mind, come back, pass the other nine and let’s move ahead and try to make sure that in the future women have the right to choose here in New York and we can uphold the decision of Roe v. Wade.”
Democratic Assemblywoman Deborah Glick of Manhattan said she supports the decision to not pass the nine Senate bills.
“Women are united,” she said in an interview.
She said she wasn’t sure of the next step in passing all the women’s rights measures.
“We’ll take it one day at a time,” she said.
Democratic Sen. Liz Krueger of Manhattan was angry the Senate Republicans wouldn’t allow a vote on Cuomo’s total 10-point package, which was passed in the Assembly on Thursday. She said the individual measures were negotiated as part of a package, and many were weakened in compromise to achieve the whole.
“If we can’t get that full package of 10, I don’t know that you ask people to vote on those watered-down versions, free-standing,” Krueger said. “I am frustrated and angry that in the 21st century, in the great state of New York, we can’t get a fundamental modernization of reproductive health passed.”
Conservatives declared victory, although they, too, supported most or all of the nine bills that are lost because of the abortion fight.
“Women’s lives and babies’ lives will be saved as a result of blocking this legislation,” said the Rev. Jason McGuire of the conservative New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms.
Cuomo said Friday morning he had asked Silver to break up the 10 pieces and pass nine if the Senate approved them and it was unimaginable that Silver wouldn’t.
“I can’t believe the Assembly would say, ‘We won’t let pay equity become law because we are upset with the protocol,’ ” Cuomo told public radio’s “Capitol Pressroom” on Friday morning, hours before the Senate vote.
Silver and Klein said they are more concerned than ever that the U.S. Supreme Court or Congress could overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade court decision that made abortion legal. They cite a House of Representative bill passed this week that would erode abortion rights, although it stands little chance in a U.S. Senate run by Democrats.
Cuomo led the issue. In his State of the State speech in January, he underscored the abortion piece with a rousing call he repeated three times: “Because it’s her body, it’s her choice!”
Opponents, including the state Conservative Party that is influential in Republican politics, have fought the measure for months as an expansion of abortion on demand, late in pregnancy.
“We will be informing our 63,000-member Catholic Action Network of the votes of each and every one of the members, for and against the expansion of abortion in New York, the abortion capital of the United States of America,” said Richard Barnes, executive director of the New York State Catholic Conference, which represents state’s Catholic Bishops.