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Cuomo Threatens Legal Action If Roe v. Wade Is Overturned

U.S. Supreme Court

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is upping the stakes in his disagreement with Republicans on the state and federal levels over the right to choose abortion, now that President Trump has announced his choice of conservative judge Brett Kavanaugh to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. Cuomo, a Democrat, now says he’ll sue the federal government if the court overturns Roe v. Wade.

Cuomo says before legal action can begin, the state first needs to approve a measure to codify the landmark 1973 decision into state law. Wednesday was the governor’s third day of campaign-style rallies to promote the bill, known as the Reproductive Health Act.

“I want to get it done before the Supreme Court does that because I don't want any gaps in a woman's right to protection and we have a better legal case when the Supreme Court acts because I will sue when the Supreme Court acts,” Cuomo said, to cheers from the audience of locally elected officials and women’s pro-choice groups in Poughkeepsie on Wednesday.

It was not immediately clear what the legal basis for a lawsuit would be. Spokesman Rich Azzopardi says only that the administration “will seek to protect the fundamental constitutional right of women under both state and federal law.”

So far, Republicans who control the State Senate have not agreed to return to the Capitol to pass the Reproductive Health Act and a related bill expanding contraceptive coverage, saying they dislike some provisions of the measure.

The right to choose abortion has become a key focus of the Democratic primary for governor.

Cuomo’s Democratic primary challenger, Cynthia Nixon, held her own rally to protest Trump’s selection of Kavanaugh to serve on the Supreme Court.

Nixon says her mother had an illegal abortion in New York before the 1970 law decriminalized the procedure in the state. She says it was a “tremendously awful experience” for her mother.  Nixon, speaking at a rally in New York City, pulled a metal hanger from her tote bag, saying it is a gruesome reminder of what went on before Roe.

“This is something that women in this state and in this country were driven to use out of fear and desperation, performing abortions on themselves, often with devastating effects to their health and sometimes to their life,” said Nixon saying  the nation must “never, ever” go back to that time.

Since Trump announced his choice for the court Monday night, both Nixon and Cuomo received endorsements from pro-choice groups.  

The political wing of the state’s Planned Parenthood has endorsed Andrew Cuomo for a third term as governor. Planned Parenthood Empire State Votes Political Action Committee says Cuomo has been a “national leader in the fight for reproductive health rights” and that it’s important to have “experienced” politicians in charge during a time when they say “Roe v. Wade hangs in the balance.”  

Nixon was endorsed by the national group #VOTEPROCHOICE, which is affiliated with the Women’s March on Washington and has endorsed pro-abortion rights candidates across the country. #VOTEPROCHOICE co-founder Heidi Sieck says Cuomo has not done enough to get abortion rights protections approved in New York. She says the governor had “every opportunity” and the power to “fully protect a woman’s right to access safe, legal abortion” but instead helped keep Republicans in control of the State Senate, where the bills have stalled for several years.

Nixon has accused Cuomo of tacitly supporting a group of breakaway Democrats who helped the Republicans control the Senate.

Cuomo denies that. Earlier this year, after the state budget passed in April, he convinced the breakaway faction to rejoin the rest of the Democrats.

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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