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Reproductive Rights Again an Issue at the Capitol

LG Kathy Hochul waits to speak at pro reproductive rights rally in Albany
Karen DeWitt
LG Kathy Hochul waits to speak at pro reproductive rights rally in Albany

It’s been more than 40 years since the Roe v Wade decision legalizing a women’s right to choose an abortion, but advocates say New York lawmakers have yet to translate the provisions of the landmark Supreme Court decision into law in the state.

New York already has laws legalizing abortion rights, approved in 1970. But advocates say they’re outdated,  and the legislation needs to be upgraded to protect women if the Supreme Court ever reverses  the Roe v Wade decision.

Governor Cuomo, who supports the measure, known as the reproductive health act,  did not attend the rally at the Capitol. But Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul spoke.

Governor Cuomo initially wanted to include the reproductive rights bill as part of a package that he named the Women’s Equality Act, but it was opposed by Republicans in the State Senate. Cuomo eventually dropped it from the list in favor of getting some of the other provisions passed. They include making it easier for women to sue for equal pay, and anti human trafficking measures.

Lieutenant Governor Hochul says she knows of some GOP Senators, who she would not name, who are “supportive” of voting for the abortion rights measure and she says she’s hopeful that election year pressures could encourage them to join Democrats to provide enough votes for passage.

“When their constituents have an opportunity to explain to them how important to this,” said Hochul who says  “it’s early yet” in the process.

The lone Senate Republican to address the planned parenthood lobbyists, John Bonacic of the Hudson Valley, says he’s in favor of the bill, and would vote for it if it came to the floor. He says he believes there is “quiet support” among other Republicans.

“I don’t believe in abortions,” said Bonacic who says he is strongly Catholic. But he says his wife and daughter are pro choice.

“We should never deprive women of access to health care that they chose and their medical providers say is best for them,” Senator Bonacic said.

But Bonacic cast some doubt on whether the Senate Republicans as a group would permit the measure to come to the floor for a vote, saying he thinks election pressures will cause closet supporters of the bill to be even more cautious.

“The stakes may be higher, where people won’t have the courage to embrace this now,” the Senator said. “Your guess is as good as mine.”

The leader of the Senate Democrats, who are in the minority in that house, also said it’s dubious that any vote will occur. Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins says no GOP Senator has actually signed on to the bill.

“I don’t have any bi partisan support,” Stewart Cousins said.

One other issue left out of the Women’s Equality Act is paid family leave. Governor Cuomo pledged in his State of the State address to fight for a bill to require companies to offer 12 weeks of leave.

But Cuomo said later that his plan would only allow workers to receive about one third of their regular pay if they take the leave. It would require each worker to pay one dollar per pay period to contribute to the fund.

Lieutenant Governor Hochul was asked if she thinks that’s adequate.

“Well right now, you’re looking at zero,” Hochul said.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie says his house has a more comprehensive plan on Family Leave that he continues to support.

“We believe the Assembly’s version is a better version,” said Heastie, who said he’s open to negotiations.

The Assembly Democrats’ plan would draw on the state’s temporary disability insurance fund to partially pay workers salaries when they request leave .

Senate Republican Leader John Flanagan, says he likes the ideas in the Governor’s plan, and says his members will discuss it.

“The  devil is in the details,” said Flanagan, who said a lot of his members “care very deeply” about paid family leave.

The Assembly approved a related reproductive health measure. It would require insurance plans to cover all FDA- approved contraceptive devices, without co payments or deductibles.