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Dispute Over Abortion Sinks Women’s Rights Bills In N.Y. Legislature

Supporters Said Bill Wouldn't Change Abortion Practices
New York State Capitol in Albany (file / credit: Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

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

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ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A 10-part package of bills intended to protect women’s rights was derailed in the New York State Legislature Friday night, over concerns about a contentions late-term abortion proposal that was included.

As WCBS 880’s Sophia Hall reported, the package promoted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo included a series of new laws that would protect women’s rights at work and at home when they face domestic violence. The bills would have strengthened order of protection laws, increased penalties for those convicted of human trafficking, and provided pay equity for men and women.

But the late-term abortion proposal sank each and every one of the measures, even though its ardent supporters said it would not actually change abortion practices.

Cuomo said he simply wants to put federal protections under the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision into state law in case the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the landmark decision that made abortion legal.

Currently, New York State only allows late-term abortions if a woman’s life is at risk. The new bill would allow for late-term abortions — after 24 weeks of pregnancy — to protect women’s health rather than only their lives.

“We need to make sure state law is modernized, which is all the new law would have done,” said state Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan.)

The state Senate passed the nine measures besides the abortion provision as standalone bills. But the Senate Republican conference blocked the abortion measure.

The Democrat-led Assembly passed a single bill with all 10 measures, but refused to take up the Senate’s individual bills. Democratic assemblywomen insisted abortion be approved.

“In consultation with the women members of the Legislature who are driving the train on this — we will have a dialogue with the governor on how to proceed,” Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) said as he was leaving the Capitol on the last day of the 2013 session.

Silver could bring the issue up again in a special session.

Cuomo and the women’s coalition of 850 groups that he assembled have insisted for six months that they would accept nothing less than all 10 provisions of his women’s equality act, insisting that the abortion proposal was critical.

On Friday night, when it was clear Senate Republicans wouldn’t blink and followed through on a longstanding promise to block the abortion measure, some elements of the women’s coalition balked and tried to save the other nine measures important to millions of women.

Even Family Planning Advocates, an abortion rights group, urged the Assembly to take up the nine measures passed by the Senate hours earlier.

“The measures that passed the Senate today deserve, on their merits, to become law to improve the lives of the women of this state,” said Dianne Patterson, of FPA. “We urge the Assembly to pass these equality provisions today because women deserve every step forward the Legislature has the opportunity to provide.”

Other groups including NARAL Pro-Choice New York continue to insist on the abortion measure and supported the decision of Silver and assemblywomen.

“It is unconscionable that the speaker would jeopardize the tremendous progress we have made on behalf of New York’s women by refusing to vote on the nine bills that make up our historic women’s equality agenda,” Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) said.

Conservatives declared victory, although they, too, supported most or all of the nine bills that are lost because of the abortion fight.

“Women’s lives and babies’ lives will be saved as a result of blocking this legislation,” said the Rev. Jason McGuire, of the conservative New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms.

Other critics have said Cuomo introduced the bills to burnish his progressive credentials for a possible run for president. And some said the bills would undermine any such run.

“I’m saying this is political suicide. I’m saying that he’s basically aborted his presidential bid,” said Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League. “After all, you have a man who is a Catholic, who’s living with a woman outside of wedlock, who is in favor of two men getting married, who now wants to have abortion in the late term.”

Cuomo said earlier this month that his agenda was simply securing women’s rights.

“It’s fear-mongering,” Cuomo said. “There is a simplicity and a clarity to the ‘choice’ language. You’re pro-choice or you are not pro-choice.”

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.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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