March 18, 2015 — The New York Assembly plans to advance components of the Women's Equality Act without an abortion-rights measure that has faced opposition in the state Senate the past few years, the Buffalo News reports.
The Women's Equality Act was initially designed as a multipiece legislative package addressing a range of issues, including sex trafficking, pay equity, pregnancy discrimination and abortion rights (Precious, Buffalo News, 3/17).
The package has been introduced in two previous sessions but failed to pass the state Senate, where some conservatives opposed an abortion-rights provision (Hupfl, New York City & State, 3/16).
Supporters of the abortion-rights bill said it would align New York law with federal law and codify abortion-rights protections in case Roe v. Wade were ever overturned by the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, opponents have characterized it as an expansion of abortion access.
Package Split Up; Human Trafficking Measures Pass
Although state Assembly leaders and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) back the package in its entirety, state Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D) said that lawmakers have agreed to consider the bills individually to end the impasse that has prevented it from advancing.
On Monday, the state Assembly voted 141-0 to advance a bill (A 506) from the package that would increase penalties for labor and sex traffickers, as well as create a new defense in prostitution cases for individuals exploited through sex trafficking. The bill would also create a civil right of action for trafficking survivors to sue for damages and increase penalties for individuals who patronize minors for prostitution. The bill now goes to Cuomo for consideration.
The Assembly also passed bills with provisions that would require a state agency to offer safe houses for trafficking survivors (A 2953) and establish a 24-hour hotline for reporting suspicions of trafficking (A 2636). The Senate has not yet approved those measures (Buffalo News, 3/17).
Women's Groups Support Moving Bills Individually
Women's rights groups said Monday that they support the decision to advance the bills individually but noted that supporting the reproductive rights protections remains important.
Family Planning Advocates of New York President Tracey Brooks noted that lawmakers were looking at "a comprehensive package of six bills dealing with human trafficking, so this [is a] bigger and larger movement than just the Women's Equality Act," adding, "Any bill that will help women in the state of New York we support, but certainly comprehensive reproductive health care needs to pass through both houses."
NARAL Pro-Choice New York President Andrea Miller said, "I think anything that moves women forward in this state is an accomplishment, but I also know our work will not be done until all those protections are enshrined in state law." She added, "We have the utmost confidence that the [state] Assembly will stand tall and support protections for women's health, including the rights enshrined in [Roe]. They've always stood tall for that and my hope would be that we can see that" (New York City & State,3/16).