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Cuomo’s crusade

"Cuomo’s crusade" Continued...

Issue: "Rejecting religious liberty," June 15, 2013

In 1995, another New York abortionist was convicted of murder and sentenced to 25 years in prison under New York’s criminal statutes. Dr. David Benjamin was found guilty after he aborted a 19- or 20-week-old child and left the mother to bleed to death. The murder charge was shocking because doctors in that situation would typically face malpractice suits. New York law allows for stiffer penalties—a doctor can be convicted of homicide for committing “upon a female an abortional act which causes her death.” The proposed law would strike that clause, but it asserts that Benjamin could still be convicted under other statutes.

In 2001, a man pleaded guilty to attempted second-degree abortion, which is also a criminal act under current New York law, after he put a drug in a friend’s drink that he thought would abort her child (it didn’t work). The proposed law would remove criminal penalties for second-degree abortion.

Cuomo first unveiled the proposal in his January State of the State speech as part of the Women’s Equality Act (WEA), a 10-point initiative that has the abortion measure rolled in with measures addressing women’s equal pay and trafficking. The governor hasn’t yet introduced the actual legislation for the WEA, so he could amend the RHA before introducing it in the larger bill. But Cuomo’s office told me that he does not plan to change any of the 10 points, including the abortion portion. Democrats are hopeful that rolling the abortion measure in with other more popular measures will ease the act’s passage. Cuomo wants to pass the WEA before the legislative session ends in June.

For now the measure has one roadblock: Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos, who effectively controls the Senate with a coalition of Republicans and some breakaway Democrats.  Skelos said he wouldn’t let the abortion measure come to the floor, and mentioned after Gosnell’s conviction that the law would “open the door to similar horrors.” Still, on gun control and gay marriage, Cuomo has shown skill at flipping Senate Republican votes.

At a recent press conference a reporter asked the governor, “With the 10 points—is it all or nothing?”

“There is no reason not to pass all 10,” Cuomo said. “I want all 10 passed.”

“Considering the block over abortion,” the reporter returned, “is that realistic?”

“You’re stating their position today,” Cuomo said. “There’s tomorrow and the day after and the day after. We have several weeks.”

“Considering how strongly they’ve opposed this, do you expect to change their minds in six weeks?” the reporter said.

“Revelations happen all the time,” Cuomo said.

Skelos’ office did not respond to a request for comment on the governor’s assertion.

New York rules

New York’s current abortion laws get an A-minus from NARAL Pro-Choice America, while Americans United For Life ranks it 48 out of the 50 states. The state has no laws requiring parental consent for minors seeking abortions, no waiting period for abortions, and it publicly funds abortions for women who receive public assistance.

The proposed Reproductive Health Act removes late-term abortions from the criminal code, so illegal late-term abortions would be treated as malpractice. The RHA removes manslaughter penalties for doctors who might unintentionally kill a patient in the course of an abortion (though manslaughter charges remain for someone who “recklessly causes the death of another person”).

Under current law, if someone murdered a woman who was more than 24 weeks pregnant, he or she could be prosecuted for two homicides. The RHA would remove the homicide statute for unborn babies. Also, in the section of the criminal code that gives the coroner or medical examiner authority to investigate suspicious deaths, the RHA deletes this provision: “A death caused by suspected criminal abortion.” The law’s preamble says that removing abortion from the criminal code will ensure that abortion is “treated like any other medical procedure.”

The Supreme Court might disagree. In its 1980 ruling Harris v. McRae, the court wrote, “Abortion is inherently different from other medical procedures because no other procedure involves the purposeful termination of a potential life.” —E.B.

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emzleb.

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