February 03, 2014The Women's Equality Agenda passed in the Assembly January 27 as a single piece of legislation, reviving a fight over abortion laws that consumed much of the end of session last year.
To mark the introduction of the bill this session, Family Planning Advocates of New York State and supporters of women's rights convened in the Empire State Plaza urging lawmakers to pass the 10-part legislation first outlined by the governor in his 2013 State of the State Address. Advocates for the bill in the Senate and Assembly addressed a large and vocal crowd detailing the salience of a woman's right to choose, the need for improved family health planning and the value of quality reproductive services.
"Even in this amazing new millennium, the old shameful double-standard lives on," said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, while standing with members of the New York State Bipartisan Pro-Choice Legislative Caucus. "Even now there are forces that want to take us back to the dark days when women suffered at the hands of back-alley charlatans."
The Women's Equality Agenda also mandates equal pay for women, would create tougher discrimination laws, and provides protection for victims of human trafficking.
In June 2013, the Republican controlled Senate introduced the equality agenda as 10 separate bills only passing nine. The abortion provision, which would have re-codified abortion regulations under the state Health Law and not the Penal Law, stalled in the Senate and sparked a partisan political debate. The provision ensures women can have an abortion in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy if her health is seriously jeopardized and it also protects physicians who perform abortions from criminal prosecution.
Organizations that support the equality agenda commended Assembly Democrats for passing the bill last week.
"Today's Assembly vote is an important step toward a more fair and equitable state for all New Yorkers," said New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman. "Our Assembly members recognize that every single measure of the Women's Equality Act is critically important, including access to reproductive health care. The Senate needs to stop playing politics and stand up for the health and wellbeing of all New York women's lives."
Referring to the omnibus bill (A.08070), passed in the Assembly last week with a vote of 88-43, Lieberman said the legislation would have a positive impact on the lives of all of New York's 10 million women.
Tracey Brooks, president and CEO of Family Planning Advocates, said all aspects of the Women's Equality Agenda are important and called the notion that the legislation would allow for "abortion on demand" insulting.
"Family planning makes sense," Brooks said. "We're going to fight for all provisions of the Women's Equality Agenda, especially the abortion provision."
However, Assembly Republican Leader Brian Kolb, R – Canandaigua, predicts the legislation as written by Democrats, will fail again this year because the legislation was not introduced as 10 separate bills.
"By introducing a single piece of legislation, the majority has once again threatened the future of measures that can enact pay-equity provisions, strengthen sexual harassment protections, create new human trafficking laws, and end a variety of discriminatory practices against women," said Kolb.
Family Planning Advocates of New York State voiced their displeasure with Assemblyman Kolb's plan to introduce the legislation as nine separate bills.
"Eighty percent of New York voters want the abortion provision passed, as well as the other measures of the Women's Equality Agenda," Brooks said in a statement responding to Kolb. "Other members of Mr. Kolb's conference have stood strong for their constituency and have taken the necessary steps to ensure equality for the 10 million women of New York."
Assembly Republicans have introduced nine separate bills they say would provide women with the protection, opportunities and greater equality they deserve.
"With the Senate continuing to lack the necessary votes to pass the 10th piece of the agenda — the abortion expansion legislation — it is absolutely critical that we vote on each of the nine other pieces individually so that the governor may sign this landmark legislation," said Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, R–Staten Island.
"There is no reason why the women of New York state should have to wait for these pieces of legislation to become law. All nine bills passed in the Senate last year but were shut down because of a political debacle," said Assemblyman Joe Borelli, R–Staten Island.
However, at least one Assembly Republican, Janet Duprey, is breaking from her conference and endorsing the 10-piece legislation, including the abortion provision. Duprey is backing the bill introduced by Assembly Democrats to ensure the safety of women in making their own health care decisions, she said.
"This cannot, should not, and I will not allow it to be a partisan issue," said Duprey, R-Peru, while standing with Democratic lawmakers in the Empire State Plaza.
Each of the nine bills proposed by Assembly Republicans mirror the Democrats' protections for women including; securing equal pay and establishing that women performing the same work as men must be paid the same amount; ending sexual harassment in the workplace — removing current law that allows businesses with less than four employees exemption from sexual harassment law; awarding attorneys fees to winning parties in cases of housing, work, and discrimination based on sex; ending employment discrimination for women with children or those planning to have children; and ending pregnancy discrimination by requiring that employers provide reasonable accommodations for pregnancy related conditions.
The bills also include protections against human trafficking by strengthening the penalties for sex and labor trafficking and prostitution, extending an inter-agency task force focused on women's issues, allowing human trafficking victims to sue perpetrators in court for damages and establish an affirmative action defense system for defendants who are human trafficking victims.
The Rev. Jason McGuire, executive director of the Christian conservative group, New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, is confident the 10-part bill will not get through the Senate.
"We're not at all surprised by the Assembly passing the bill," said McGuire. "We think it was a strategic error by passing it in session so early, I think it was a lobby day for the groups supporting and they were just trying to show support. I've spoken to Senate Republicans from [Dean] Skelos on down. We're confident it won't get brought to the Senate floor."