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Women's Groups Targeting New York State Senate Over Abortion Rights Provision

Women’s groups are putting pressure on the State Senate’s ruling coalition to take up Governor Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Act, which includes  an abortion rights provision.

Senator DeFrancisco, a Syracuse Republican and Chair of the Finance Committee, said in an interview with public radio and television that most New York women aren’t that interested in the proposal, “and would not even lose a night’s sleep about expanding abortion rights”.

Tracey Brooks is with Family Planning Advocates, one of  850 women’s groups  pushing for Governor Cuomo’s 10 point Women’s Equality Act. It includes codifying into New York law the abortion rights spelled out in the federal Roe v Wade decision.

“I find it odd that he would say that,” Brooks said.

Brooks says DeFrancisco is incorrect, and that a recent Quinnipiac University poll shows the majority of New Yorkers want the abortion rights provision passed into law.

“Overwhelmingly, three to one, New Yorkers want  the women’s reproductive health plank as part of the 10 point plan,” Brooks said.

There are currently not enough votes among Democrats in the Senate to get the abortion proposal approved.

The women’s groups have been hoping to convince some moderate Republican Senators to also back the measure.

But one of those considered a possible swing vote , Senator Joe Robach of Rochester, says he’s not going vote for the provision.

“I’m not going to support anything that expands into partial birth abortion,” Robach said.  

Supporters deny that the bill expands partial birth abortion, they say that procedure is already outlawed in New York.

Senator Robach says the other parts of the women’s equality act , like pay equity and anti sexual harassment measures, stand a better chance of passage if the abortion rights section is taken out.

“That’s a controversial part,” said Robach. “I don’t think that has to be part of that bill to get passed, and people should be willing to negotiate.”

The Senate GOP rules with the help of a group of break away Democrats known as the Independent Democratic Conference.  Brooks and others are putting pressure on the IDC to advance the bill. They say conference leader, Senator Jeff Klein, an ardent pro choice supporter, should demand that the bill come to the floor for a vote before the session ends.

“We ask Jeff Klein, ‘Where are you’? You cannot come to Family Planning Advocates’ day of action and say that no longer is it acceptable for Democrats to pound their chests and proclaim they are pro choice while undermining  reproductive health care,” said Brooks. “By not allowing this to come to the floor, by even mentioning that nine points is adequate for the women of this state is absolutely a slap in the face.”  

Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos, speaking after a closed door leader’s meeting with Governor Cuomo, says the abortion rights provision is not happening.

“I think I’ve indicated very clearly that we’re prepared, to do a very strong nine of the ten,” Skelos said.

Senator Klein left the meeting without answering reporters’ questions on the topic.

Despite their differences over abortion rights, the two factions governing the Senate did find one topic they could both agree on, and they held a news conference on it. Rank and file members of the GOP and the IDC talked of the need to reduce government rules and regulations.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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