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State Senate GOP Calls Proposed Abortion Rights Expansion Extreme

New York State Capitol in Albany (file / credit: Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

New York State Capitol in Albany (file / credit: Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Republicans in the New York State Senate have slammed Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to expand abortion rights as an extreme measure from what they call the radical left.

The Senate Republicans have the power to block legislation.

“I think this is not a well-thought-out piece of legislation,” said Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre.) “The bottom line is, in New York state, abortion is legal, it’s safe.”

Cuomo has not yet issued his bill with all the details of his proposal, but he calls for ending what he calls discrimination and government interference against women in making choices about their bodies and would move abortion into health law, out of criminal statutes. The proposal has strong support in the Assembly’s Democratic majority.

“I don’t understand what the issue is,” Skelos said two weeks after Cuomo made the proposal a rousing part of his State of the State speech. “In New York state, you have Medicaid spending on abortion, there is no parental consent, there is no parental notification, you can pretty much have an abortion any time you want — I think it’s really a non-issue.”

Cuomo packaged the abortion rights measure in a women’s rights package that included proposals to assure equal pay, workplace rights, and bills combating abuse against women. At this point, Cuomo has tied all the measures together, requiring the Legislature to approve all or none of the proposals.

He repeated his support for greater abortion protections three times in his State of the State speech, shouting and jabbing his finger to the cheering audience: “Because it’s her body, it’s her choice!”

Skelos made his first extensive comments on Cuomo’s proposal a day after the state Conservative Party issued some stern direction to Republican senators. Most need Conservative support in the state dominated by Democratic voters. A Conservative Party backlash last fall against three Republicans who voted to legalize gay marriage in 2011 cost Republicans sole control of the Senate this year.

Advocates may have to depend entirely on Democrats, who are divided in the Senate. The five-member Independent Democratic conference shares majority control in a coalition with Republicans. Another 27 are in the traditional Democratic conference, but at least two of them have voted against expanding abortion rights in the past. Another Democrat sits and vote with the Republicans.

That leaves no easy route for approval of Cuomo’s abortion proposal.

“The coalition government is not to turn Republicans into Democrats,” said Sen. Jeffrey Klein (D-Bronx/Westchester) who leads the Independent Democratic Conference. “This is a tough issue and I believe it’s become a very core Democratic issue — we really need to figure out a way to get this done.”

The Senate coalition’s power sharing agreement requires Klein and Skelos to agree to send a bill to the floor for a vote, with either leader holding a veto. But Klein said that if 32 Democrats agree to vote for the measure, he will get it to the floor.

“This should not be a partisan issue, but about protecting the equality and health of women,” said Mike Murphy, spokesman for the traditional Democratic conference. “We will stand behind the governor’s Women’s Equality Act that includes legislation that would increase pay equity, stop discrimination as well as protect women’s reproductive rights.”

Discussion and legislation on abortion has gone in the opposite direction, toward stronger restrictions on abortion rights, in many states recently.

Last year, Virginia Gov. Bob McConnell signed a bill that requires women to view an ultrasound before getting an abortion. That bill has drawn particular criticism for its requirement that some women undergo an invasive transvaginal ultrasound probe.

A similar law is also on the books in Texas, where a woman must undergo a sonogram and hear a doctor’s verbal description of what she is seeing – and even ask the patient if she wants to hear the fetal heartbeat – before an abortion can be performed.

An Illinois lawmaker proposed a similar bill last year that would have required a mother to view an ultrasound before getting an abortion in that state. But after that bill passed out of committee, Democrats added what proponents called “hostile amendments” that would have extended the ultrasound requirement to dozens of other medical procedures from cardiac to testicular operations, and that would have required men to undergo counseling before seeking treatment for erectile dysfunction.

The Illinois bill ultimately died before ever coming up for a vote when the state House of Representatives ended its session in January.

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