Women's rights advocates rally outside the Capitol Tuesday in support of the governor's equality agenda. Photo by Richard Moody.
June 04, 2013Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday unveiled his long-awaited Women's Equality Agenda — first promised during his State of the State Address in January — in hopes of reducing discrimination in the workplace, stopping sexual harassment, strengthening domestic violence laws, reducing prostitution and human trafficking, and protecting the right to an abortion in New York.
"In 1848, the women's suffrage movement began in America at the first Women's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York. Since then, New York has been at the forefront of important social and legal movements that have advanced the equal treatment of all people," said Cuomo. "Over the years, however, New York has fallen behind in its role as a progressive leader on women's rights. The Women's Equality Act, which I introduced today, is designed to address gender inequality in our communities, and to restore New York as a leader in women's rights."
According the memo accompanying the governor's program bill, the legislation guarantees a women's right to terminate a pregnancy "prior to fetal viability or when necessary to protect the health and life of the woman." It does not require any institution to provide abortions against their religious or moral beliefs. Contrary to fears of pro-life groups, the bill does not expand the class of individual who could perform abortions and it does not alter the long-standing criminal ban on partial-birth abortions.
Ed Cox, the chair of the state Republican Party, said the governor should launch a full investigation into allegations of sexual harassment by Assemblyman Vito Lopez, and the subsequent cover-up by Assembly leaders, if he is truly concerned about protecting women.
"For Andrew Cuomo to grandstand about women's rights to a national audience while ignoring women's rights in New York is the height of hypocrisy," Cox said..
"The governor's 'Women's Agenda' should begin at home. If he's serious about protecting women, he will appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Vito Lopez, who sexually assaulted his female staff members, and Sheldon Silver, who covered up sexual abuse with covert payments of taxpayer money.
"By his own admission, his highly-touted JCOPE has failed. Only a special prosecutor can provide justice to Vito Lopez and Sheldon Silver's victims."
It is unclear whether the intention of the bill is to allow abortions after 24 weeks if the mother's life or health is in danger, as determined by a doctor. But some pro-life advocates fear recoding the state's abortion laws under health laws instead of penal laws will no longer give doctors pause when considering performing a late-term abortion. They are also concerned that the clause about protecting the health of a woman may be open to interpretation and could encourage more abortions in New York.
The Rev. Jason McGuire, executive director of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, accused Cuomo of holding other equality provisions hostage to the abortion provision of the bill.
"One hundred forty-six days after trumpeting his support for a Women's Equality Act in this year's State of the State Address, Governor Andrew Cuomo has finally seen fit to allow the bill to see the light of day. Contrary to the self-serving representations made by the governor and his staff over the past several months, the proposed
Women's Equality Act does indeed include late-term abortion expansion language," McGuire said. "In spite of the fact that New York is already the abortion capital of the nation, and in spite of the deep concerns felt by a supermajority of New York voters in regard to the availability of late-term abortion, Governor Cuomo has continued with his efforts to gain the good will of the abortion industry.
"It is a shame that Governor Cuomo is holding the other elements of his Women's Equality Act hostage to late-term abortion expansion. It is a disgrace that the governor continues to do nothing whatsoever to decrease our state's woefully high abortion rate and to bring New York's abortion laws into line with the views of the voting public. The last thing that New York needs is to invite late-term abortionists like Kermit Gosnell to set up shop in the Empire State.
"Governor Cuomo, you work for the people of the State of New York, not Planned Parenthood. Put petty politics and personal presidential aspirations aside. Start representing the interests of real New Yorkers, not just pro-abortion special interests," McGuire said.
The governor told reporters Tuesday he wants to pass all ten points of the Women's Equality Agenda.
"We don't believe you have to give up any of the ten" points of the agenda, Cuomo said Tuesday.
Kelly Cummings, the communications director for Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos said "We are confident that we can reach agreement with the Governor and Assembly on a bipartisan Women's agenda that provides New York women with equality, safety and financial well-being in the home and in the workplace.
"Senate Republicans have already led the way on a number of the measures advanced today by the governor, including strengthening human trafficking laws, protecting the victims of domestic violence and insisting on zero tolerance for sexual harassment. Introduction of the abortion provision, however, is a political maneuver designed to curry favor with the extremists who want to expand late-term abortion, and open the door to non-physicians performing abortions. It's wrong for New York."
Tracey Brooks, executive director of Family Planning Advocates of New York State, said, "For years, the state of New York has been behind important social movements. The governor's comprehensive plan on women's equality ensures that New York will continue to be at the forefront of these issues. By addressing domestic violence, human trafficking and workplace discrimination and protecting a woman's freedom of choice, the Women's Equality Act will successfully advance women's rights that have been ignored for too long."