Gov. Cuomo on Monday called for a state constitutional amendment protecting abortion rights in New York.
Cuomo made the announcement at a rally at Barnard College that featured Hillary Clinton and state Democratic lawmakers as they vowed passage of a bill later this month that would strengthen New York’s abortion laws and also enact a bill requiring insurance companies to provide contraceptive coverage for women.
Cuomo also said he wants to go further with a constitutional amendment.
“In this crazy political world, no one is really sure what happens,” he said. “You can pass a law today and lightening can strike and you have a different political context and they can pass a new law which would repeal this law.”
Cuomo said he will push for first passage of the amendment this year. Under state law, a separately-elected Legislature would have to give second passage before putting the issue up to voters.
The earliest that can happen is 2020, with voters then having their say most likely in 2021.
“We’ll put it on the ballot, we’ll write in into the constitution, and we’ll be able to say we have protected women’s rights in a way no one else has before,” Cuomo said.
State Conservative Party Chairman Michael Long accused Cuomo of having “his head screwed on backwards.”
Unlike many other states, New York is not suffering from a lack of access to reproductive services, he said.
“This is not a problem New Yorkers are facing,” Long said. “Women don’t have to go to a back alley to have an abortion. We have clinics all over New York State. I don’t know where his priorities are but they’re mixed up. He should be lowering taxes, reducing mandates, and making New York business friendly, but he’s not doing that.”
Cuomo said he fears Roe v Wade will be overturned by the conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court.
Because of that, the state Legislature, most likely on the anniversary of the Jan. 22, 1973 landmark Roe v Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, will pass what is known as the Reproductive Health Act.
The measure would take abortion out of the state’s criminal statute and instead place it in public health law. It would also allow, under certain circumstances, abortions in the third trimester of pregnancy.
And it would let health processionals who are not licensed physicians perform abortions.
The bill has passed the state Assembly repeatedly over the years, but had been blocked in the Republican-controlled Senate.
But with the Democrats having won a strong majority in the Senate in the November elections, the bill is being fast-tracked for passage.
Cuomo during his re-election vowed it would be passed within the first 30 days of the this year’s legislative session.
Taking a shot at President Trump, Cuomo said Republicans who blocked the Reproductive Health Act always argued that no “sane” presidential administration would ever target Roe v Wade.
“They were right,” he said. “What I missed was the possibility that we could elect an insane administration.”
If, as Cuomo and other elected officials fear, Roe v Wade is overturned, access to abortion will become a state issue.
“So what do we do?” Cuomo asked. “Protect ourselves. Pass a state law that is a prophylactic from the federal action and that means Reproductive Health Act and the Contraceptive Care Act.”
Clinton, who repeated her frequent quote that “women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights,” said that the struggle for women’s equality is not simply to be read about in the pages of history books.
“It continues to be the fight of our lifetime,” said Clinton, the former Secretary of State and ex-U.S. senator from New York who lost to Trump in 2016. “Women’s ability to get basic healthcare, our right to make the most deeply personal decision, is facing the most significant threats in recent memory. This (presidential) administration has rolled back access to reproductive services at home around around the world.”
Incoming state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) first introduced the Reproductive Health Act in the Senate in 2007.
But while there were 12 Republicans in 1970–three years before the Roe v Wade ruling–who helped pass New York’s law legalizing abortions, she couldn’t find one who would back her bill, which has long been sponsored by Assemblywoman Deborah Glick (D-Manhattan) in the Assembly.
But now the Democrats have 39 members in the 63-seat chamber, including 14 women.
The Senate has not been able to make anything change for women, Stewart-Cousins said.
“That is over. In January…we will be making our statement,” she added. “We will be making our mark. We will be saying, no more time to wait. We are moving forward…Don’t try to make us look backward.”
With Liz Elizalde
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