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N.Y. Senate Passes Women's Equality Bills, Excludes Abortion-Rights Measure

January 13, 2015 — The GOP-controlled New York Senate on Monday unanimously approved eight out of nine remaining bills in the package known as the Women's Equality Act but did not take up an abortion-rights measure, setting up another potential stalemate with the state Assembly, the AP/Auburn Citizen reports (AP/Auburn Citizen, 1/12).

Background

The 10-point measure, which failed to pass in its entirety in previous sessions, includes bills covering issues such as human trafficking, sexual harassment, pay equity, protective orders for women and abortion access (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/7). A version of one of the 10 bills addressing penalties for domestic violence has already become law (Campbell, Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, 1/12).

The state Senate last session passed some bills from the package, including measures that would have addressed employment and housing discrimination, equal pay and sexual harassment, but many state senators objected to the abortion-rights measure. Meanwhile, state Assembly Democrats wanted the package to be considered in its entirety and not as separate bills (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/7).

Supporters have said the abortion-rights measure in the package would bring state law in line with the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/12/14). However, opponents of abortion rights, including some conservative members of the New York state Senate, have referred to the measure as an "abortion expansion," the Albany Times Union reports.

Reaction, Next Steps

In a statement before the votes in his chamber, state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R) called on the state Assembly to follow suit and pass the eight bills. He said, "It is a new year and time to put progress over politics by passing effective measures that provide women with the protections they need and the opportunities they deserve. The Senate is making the passing of these bills an immediate priority because women need the politics to end so that New York can enact a Women's Equality Agenda without further delay."

State Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said that the votes were an example of Senate GOP lawmakers not being willing to support abortion rights. She said, "What they're saying yet again is here we are in 2015, and there's no Republican willing to even pass for New York state what is federal law" (Hamilton, Albany Times Union, 1/12).

Meanwhile, state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D) indicated that his chamber could again decide to only take up the Women's Equality Act as a whole (AP/Auburn Citizen, 1/12). He said, "I think what's important here is our conference will take up the issues, and what's really important is to pass all 10 points. A woman's right to choose is a fundamental right, and the Senate so far has not shown any (inclination) toward that."

According to the Albany Times Union, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is expected to restate his support for the passage of the full Women's Equality Act when he delivers the State of the State address next week (Albany Times Union, 1/12).