There has been discussion for quite some time that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo would unveil a bill intended to expand abortion rights in the blue state. Considering that most legislative and executive bodies seem to be taking the opposite approach to actually roll back unfettered abortion laws, this expectation was certainly surprising. This morning, after months of chatter, Cuomo substantiated his expected plans when he officially proposed the contentious bill in question -- one that has some religious leaders less-than-contended.
The "Women's Equality Act" contains a number of intriguing elements, the Wall Street Journal reports. But among them, the most contentious would be an allowance for abortions to occur after the 24-week period, if needed to protect a woman's health. It is important to note that this is a more general allowance than the one that is currently on the books -- an exemption if the mother's life is at risk.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a Tax-Free New York meeting on Monday, June 3, 2013, in Albany, N.Y. Cuomo is scheduled to make his last major push as early as Tuesday to protect and expand the availability of late-term abortions, even as opposition strengthens in the Senate. Cuomo drew swift opposition in January when he issued a rallying cry to late-term expand abortion on demand. Credit: AP
The legislation would have little practical effect: federal law already allows such abortions to protect a woman's health and supercedes the more restrictive state law.
But Tuesday's unveiling of the "Women's Equality Act"—which also includes nine other elements of Mr. Cuomo's women's rights agenda—will set up a philosophical fight in the state Senate over a divisive issue that has defined the nation's culture wars for four decades. Senate Majority Coalition Co-Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican who shares power with a breakaway group of Democrats, is opposed to allowing that issue up for a vote.
Other elements of the bill include strengthened order-of-protection laws, increased penalties for people convicted of human trafficking and a new effort to guarantee women are paid the same as men in the workplace. But it is the abortion plank that has proved to the most polarizing.
Watch Cuomo discuss the bill, below:
Some sources have said, though, that the Cuomo is actually looking beyond mere symbolism. If Roe vs. Wade is ever overturned at the federal level, by instilling the same regulations that it currently guarantees, the state, theoretically, would be able to still provide abortions under the previous federal guidelines, the Daily News reports (meaning: even if Roe vs. Wade is overturned, New York could continue its abortion allowances).
Naturally, women's rights groups have come to the governor's defense, while religious groups -- most notably the Catholic Church -- are less-than-content over what is known so far about the alleged contents of the "Women's Equality Act." According to a website setup to explain the bill's intentions, it will aim to:
- Achieve Pay Equity
- Stop Sexual Harassment in All Workplaces
- Allow for the Recovery of Attorneys’ Fees in Employment and Credit and Lending Case
- Strengthen Human Trafficking Laws
- End Family Status Discrimination
- Stop Source-of-Income Discrimination
- Stop Housing Discrimination for Victims of Domestic Violence
- Stop Pregnancy Discrimination Once and For All
- Protect Victims of Domestic Violence by Strengthening Order-of-Protection Law
- Protect a Woman’s Freedom of Choice
Interestingly, it is the last point that deals with a "woman's freedom of choice" (i.e. abortion). In an op-ed published on the Huffington Post this morning, Cuomo outlined his plans, again focusing lastly on this ever-controversial issue. The governor invoked Roe vs. Wade, explaining that the controversial Supreme Court ruling's tenets are important to women's freedom in the state of New York.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo addresses the media while announcing a new bill with tougher penalties for texting while driving at a press conference at the Javits convention center on May 31, 2013 in New York City. The governor proposed additional penalties for young and new drivers ahead of the summer school break. Credit: Getty Images
Since, as stated, federal law allows termination in the case of a pregnancy's threat to a woman's health -- and not just her life -- Cuomo touted expanding state law to do the same.
"The law in New York ... was not amended after Roe, making it outdated and inconsistent with federal law. The Women's Equality Act codifies in state law the reproductive rights afforded by Roe," he wrote. "At the same time, I support and respect religious freedom and therefore our bill does not change any existing state and federal laws that permit a health care provider from refraining from providing an abortion due to religious or moral beliefs."
While the governor argued that the bill does not expand abortion rights and that it merely "codifies federal law," he did note that the Supreme Court could change its mind at some point on Roe vs. Wade. But because "New York works to protect women's right to choose," Cuomo said the state's law should change to protect against potential amendments.
He also tweeted about the bill earlier today.
Catholic League President Bill Donohue made it clear that Cuomo will face political ramifications as a result of his push to amend abortion law. While the faith leader said that it won't likely hurt his re-election chances in New York, if and when he pursues a national platform, say, for the American presidency, the abortion move will certainly be problematic.
"Andrew Cuomo's lust for abortion rights has effectively killed his chances of ever becoming president of the United States," Donohue said, calling the move "political suicide" in an interview with the Daily News. "Once he ventures outside the Empire State he will find out--the way his father Mario did--just how out of touch he is with public sentiment on this life and death issue."
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