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Pro Choice Groups Seek Cuomo's Support on Reproductive Rights Law

Senator Andrea Stewart Cousins, of the legislative pro choice caucus speaks at lobbby day for the Reproductive Health Act

Pro-choice advocates promoting the women’s reproductive health act say they are counting on Governor Andrew Cuomo to help the bill become law this year.

The reproductive health act, first introduced by former Governor Eliot Spitzer, would set in state law the right to accept or refuse contraception and the right to have a late term abortion, if a doctor determines that the health of the mother is at risk. It was originally proposed as a clean up and expansion of New York’s original first in the nation 1970 law legalizing abortion, and supporters say it would  guarantee a number of reproductive rights for women in New York should the U.S. Supreme Court ever overturn Roe v Wade.

NARAL’s Andrea Miller told a crowd of mostly women lobbyists that with the national debate once again raging over women’s access to contraception and abortion, including, in Arizona, a proposed law that would declare that life begins at ovulation,  it’s important that state leaders pass the act this year.

 “New York needs to send a powerful message that at least one state is willing and able to stand strong and stand up for women’s health and rights,” said Miller. To applause.

Governor Cuomo reaffirmed his support for the Reproductive Health Act in his State of the State message. But when he was asked about the issue on a radio show hosted by the New York Post’s Fred Dicker, Cuomo hesitated, saying he “didn’t know” if he’d taken a public position on the bill.

The governor spoke just before a meeting with New York Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan , an opponent of the bill.

Later, Cuomo clarified his stance in an interview with public radio.

“I fully support the reproductive health act,”said Cuomo. “I’ve been a long supporter of pro choice  initiatives going way, way back, and I always will be.”

Cuomo says he “disagrees” with Cardinal Dolan about choice issues, but tries to focus on what the two have in common instead.   

Cardinal Dolan, speaking after his meeting with Cuomo in mid March, says he told the governor that he was “worried” about the reproductive health act.

“We feel a high responsibility to speak up for the baby in the womb,” said Dolan, who says the reproductive health act seems to be “predicated on almost a paranoia that the abortion license is being restrained”.

“We kind of wish it were, and it’s not,” said Dolan. “If anything, we keep seeing it being expanded.”

The governor was in Albany Tuesday, but did not address the pro choice group.  He did send a deputy secretary of civil rights, Alphonso David, to speak instead. David thanked the group for their hard work and enthusiasm.

“It’s our hope that as we proceed we will actually see it come to fruition,” David said.

NARAL’s Miller says she takes the governor at his word.

“There’s no question in our minds that the governor supports this act,” said Miller who says it’s now “incumbent” upon her group and other pro choice advocates to demonstrate the depth of the support.  She says polls show three quarters of New Yorkers support the bill, including 70% of Catholics.

Neither Miller nor any of the other pro choice lobbyists had meetings scheduled with Cuomo, though she says she hopes to get one soon and hopes that the governor will lend his political capital to the issue.

“We need him on this,” Miller said.

In the meantime, the groups hope to convince some Republicans, who are in the majority in the State Senate, to agree to vote for the bill. The Democratic dominated Assembly likely has the votes for the reproductive health act to pass.

Miller  says some GOP Senators have told her privately that they would support the bill, but do not want to come out publicly until they are assured that a majority of the senators would vote yes.

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.