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Cuomo proposes constitutional amendment on abortion rights

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is greeted by Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards on Monday at an abortion rights rally in Albany.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is greeted by Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards on Monday at an abortion rights rally in Albany.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo told a crowd of cheering Planned Parenthood advocates that he’s proposing an amendment to put protections from the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade into the state’s constitution.

Cuomo said Monday that women’s rights “are under attack” in Washington with a possible Supreme Court nominee from President Donald Trump that could lead to the repeal of the landmark 1973 abortion rights decision, Roe v. Wade. The governor said he’ll try to protect those rights in New York.

“I propose today a constitutional amendment to write Roe v. Wade into the state constitution, so that nobody can change it,” Cuomo said to enthusiastic cheers.

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, applauded Cuomo’s proposal, but said afterward that more is needed than state-by-state protection.

“This is so critical,” Richards said. “This is a national right.”

Attempts to write the protections from Roe v. Wade into New York’s laws have been tried for a decade, beginning with former Gov. Eliot Spitzer in 2007, and continuing with Cuomo. The measure has stalled in the Republican-led state Senate.

Andrea Miller with the National Institute for Reproductive Health lobbied for the law for years in her former role with NARAL New York. She said even though New York has a law legalizing abortion that was approved in 1970 — three years before the Supreme Court decision — it’s outdated and needs to be modernized.

For instance, she said, New York’s law permits abortions after 24 weeks to save the life of the mother, but does not provide protections if the woman’s health is in danger.

The law also is under the state’s criminal code. Miller said it would make more sense to put it under the state’s health statutes.

“When there’s such threat at the national level, we need clarity,” Miller said. “This belongs in the health code that would allow it to be regulated like every other medical procedure.”

Republican senators, some of whom support abortion rights, have said in the past that there’s no need to approve abortion rights measures because Roe v. Wade was not in jeopardy. Miller said that is now changing, with Trump expected to pick a conservative candidate to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court.

“This is a new day,” said Miller. “We have always firmly believed that there are pro-choice senators that are not just in the Democratic conference.”

Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said, after all, the original 1970 abortion rights law was approved with the help of GOP lawmakers, 12 in the state Senate.

“We have to stand up,” Stewart-Cousins said.

Stewart-Cousins called Cuomo’s proposed constitutional amendment “a very long game” that requires two consecutively elected state Legislatures. It could not go before voters until 2019 at the earliest.

Senate Republicans had no immediate comment.

Several of the GOP lawmakers who voted for the abortion rights law in 1970 were voted out of office later that year.

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.