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Abortion Stalemate in Senate

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Act could be in jeopardy because of abortion language opponents have called ambiguous. Photo by AP.
June 17, 2013
The controversial part J of Gov. Cuomo's Women's Equality Act, which would codify the Roe v. Wade women's health protections in New York state, appears to be at a stalemate despite a last-minute attempt to compromise on abortion language in the proposed law.

But two senators that would be a key to getting the bill passed said publicly late last week that the compromise might be "too little, too late" and that it might be time to jettison the abortion language to get the other parts of the Women's Equality Act passed before session ends.

Early last week the Women's Equality Coalition put pressure on Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein, D-Bronx, to gridlock the Senate by blocking any legislation from reaching the floor until Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, R-Rockville Centre, allows a vote on the Women's Equality Act. But a spirit of compromise emerged when the coalition announced last Thursday that it could support amending the abortion law language to affirm that the bill would not alter the federal ban on partial-birth abortion.

"In a good faith effort to put these concerns to rest, our coalition will add language to the Women's Equality Act to make unequivocally clear that codifying Roe v. Wade in New York law would in no way open the door for 'partial-birth abortion' or supersede the federal ban," the coalition said in a joint statement.

Opponents of the abortion clause, including several hundred pro-life activists who gathered outside the Senate chambers during session last Wednesday afternoon, have argued that ambiguous wording in part J would lead to the expansion of abortion across the state.

Pro-life New Yorkers flooded the halls of the capitol last week to talk with senators about preventing what they call an expansion of abortion rights under the Women’s Equality Agenda. The abortion language in the equality proposal has become a sticking point for the other nine reforms the governor and women’s groups are pushing. Photo by Richard Moody.
Section J of the Women's Equality Act would codify federal abortion law in New York state, moving abortion from the penal code and into the public health code and extend a woman's access to an abortion past the 24-week point if the fetus is nonviable or if the women's health is at risk. Pro-life groups are concerned a doctor would have more leeway to terminate a pregnancy.

An abortion can be obtained after the 24-week point and after fetal viability if the life or health of the mother is put at risk. Current New York law states that an abortion can only be performed if the woman's life is at stake no matter the health implications her pregnancy might cause.

Fetal viability varies depending on a large number of variables including weight, race and prenatal care. This ambiguity of fetal viability raises concern with pro-life advocates who feel the loose language can lead to abortions being performed at anytime up until the moment of birth.

The Associated Press is reporting that Sen. Diane Savino, D-Staten Island, a member of the IDC, said last week that it may be time to sacrifice abortion reform so that the other parts of the Women's Equality Act can be adopted before session ends.

meanwhile, Sen. John Bonacic, R-Mount Hope, has been vocal in his concern that the language in part J could possibly lead the way for partial-birth abortions to occur in New York. The coalition now calls upon Bonacic, who could possibly be the 32nd vote needed to achieve a majority in the Senate, to support bringing the bill to the floor for a vote. However, Bonacic did not seem too supportive of the legislation even with the proposed amendment claiming that clarifying the language of part J is "smart, but probably too late."

"Ultimately it is the call of the Senate Co-Leaders whether this amendment is enough, but quite frankly, it's probably too little too late with so many other issues under debate," Bonacic said. "It does seem absurd to me though, that we cannot pass 9 points on a 10 point bill — particularly when the 10th point, it has been claimed, does 'nothing.'"

The 'nothing' Bonacic refers to is the claim from Gov. Cuomo and supporters of the Women's Equality Act that part J enacts no abortion expansion, but simply makes what is legal on the federal level, as outlined in Roe v. Wade, legal in New York state as well.

Family Planning Advocates of New York State President and CEO Tracey Brooks said that many statements made against part J have been overwhelmingly misleading. "The nearly ten million women of New York deserve better," Brooks said.

"Family Planning Advocates support amending the language of the Women's Equality Act in the hopes of getting the whole act to the floor for a vote," Brooks said.

The rally last Wednesday was organized by New Yorkers for Life, a pro-life umbrella organization made up of several political and religious groups across the state and spearheaded by the group New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms.

"We already have more abortion than we need here in New York state, we do not need to expand it," said a member of the Norwich Tea Party Patriots from Chenango County. "We shouldn't expand it to the full nine months and kill the baby."

Skelos has already vowed not to bring the legislation to the Senate floor for a vote if part J remains in the bill. Gov. Cuomo along with the Women's Equality Coalition have also made it clear they will not support removing part J for the sake of passing the remaining nine parts of the legislation.

The pro-life protesters were just as committed to sacrificing the entirety of the Women's Equality Agenda if the abortion language remains uncahnged. The equality agenda also includes civil rights and equal employment and wage protections and it would strengthen domestic violence laws to better protect women, among other things.

"If they're not going to remove part J we cannot be on board with this legislation," said the Rev. Jason McGuire, executive director of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms.

"Unfortunately, part J contaminates the entire bill," McGuire said. "Gov. Cuomo and the pro-abortion women's organizations have a poisoned pill in there; if they were to take out part J I expect it would be much more difficult to block any of the other legislation."

"We are not opposed to any of the other nine sections, but the tenth one is simply unacceptable," said Bruce Hempel, pastor at the Canaan Fellowship in Clermont, one of the many clergy members in attendance at the rally. "Abortion shouldn't be expanded; it is already an evil in society instead of making more of it we should make it less common," Hempel said.

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