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N.Y. Gov. Cuomo To Unveil Women's Equality Act That Includes Abortion-Rights Protections

N.Y. Gov. Cuomo To Unveil Women's Equality Act That Includes Abortion-Rights Protections

June 4, 2013 — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) on Tuesday plans to release details of his 10-point Women's Equality Act, which will include contentious provisions to protect abortion rights in the state, the Wall Street Journal reports.

According to the Journal, the abortion-related provisions would alter state law to allow abortions after 24 weeks to protect a woman's health, an exemption that is more closely aligned with federal law and less restrictive than the state's current stipulation that a woman's life must be at risk to receive an abortion at that time (Orden, Wall Street Journal, 6/2).

Although hospitals and health care providers follow the federal law, which supersedes state law, critics of the New York law argue that it has a chilling effect on physicians and patients, in part because it carries criminal penalties (AP/Niagara Gazette, 6/4).

The Women's Equality Act also includes increased penalties for human trafficking and an equal-pay effort, among other provisions, but the abortion measures are expected to be the most polarizing, according to the Journal.

Supporters Target Senate Republicans

While the measure is likely to pass the Democratic-controlled Assembly, its odds in the Senate are hindered by opposition from Senate Majority Coalition Co-Leader Dean Skelos (R), who does not want the legislation to come up for a vote.

Cuomo and several women's rights groups have launched a campaign to put pressure on a group of key Republican senators. The groups released a first round of ads over the weekend, followed by additional TV, radio and print ads that will be released on Wednesday (Wall Street Journal, 6/2).

Supporters on Tuesday plan to hold a rally in Albany, where they will argue that opposition to the measure is the equivalent of opposing Roe v. Wade.

Cuomo spokesperson Matt Wing said the legislation is designed to create "a real litmus test on Roe v. Wade for members of both parties, making it impossible to vote against for anyone who wants to say they support a woman's right to choose" (AP/Niagara Gazette, 6/4). He added that "in this state not even a Republican can afford to be against [abortion rights]" (Wall Street Journal, 6/2).

According to the AP/Niagara Gazette, Senate Republicans are under pressure from the state Conservative Party and the Catholic Church to oppose any expansion of abortion rights (AP/Niagara Gazette, 6/4).

Cuomo's Legal Counsel Explains Bill in Op-Ed

The abortion provisions in the Women's Equality Act would enshrine in state law "the health exception that has been required by the Supreme Court for more than 40 years," writes Mylan Denerstein, Cuomo's legal counsel, in an opinion piece for the Albany Times Union.

The measure "is not a 'radical expansion' of a woman's right to choose, as opponents suggest," Denerstein writes, adding that while "opponents have the right to be anti-choice, they don't have the right to intentionally twist what the governor's proposal will do."

Protecting abortion rights in New York is important because the "Supreme Court could always bring changes" and, "as the women's advocates point out, the public has a right to know their legislator's position on this important issue," Denerstein states (Denerstein, Albany Times Union, 6/4).