NEW YORK—Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo introduced his long-promised Women’s Equality Act today, a portion of which loosens New York’s abortion laws and establishes abortion as a right.
At a press conference announcing the bill, Cuomo faced a barrage of questions about the abortion section, the most controversial proposal in a bill that contains popular equal pay and anti-trafficking measures. The Catholic Archdiocese of New York has said it supports nine of the bill’s 10 measures—but it has vociferously opposed the abortion measure. The abortion rate in New York is one of the highest in the country, and in New York City, 41 percent of pregnancies end in abortion.
New York currently offers legal protections to babies older than 24 weeks. Abortion, with an exception for the life of the mother, is a crime after 24 weeks under current state law. Until Tuesday, no one knew for sure what the abortion language of the Women's Equality Act would be—Cuomo had outlined it in speeches, but hadn't offered finalized language.
The bill released Tuesday would legalize abortion at any point in a pregnancy for the sake of the life or health of the mother. Health, in Supreme Court precedent on abortion, has been widely defined to include emotional health.
Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos has said previously that he would not allow the abortion measure to come to the floor. Skelos controls the Senate with a coalition of a few breakaway Democrats. Cuomo said Tuesday he wants all 10 measures in the act passed, including the abortion measure, and he is counting on Republicans who support abortion to come to his side.
“If you are a pro-choice person you would support this,” Cuomo said. “If you were pro-life you would not support this language. It’s that binary.” But he admitted that he had received no assurance from Skelos that the majority leader would allow the bill to come to the floor, a block that would render Cuomo’s vote counting on the Republican side of the aisle irrelevant.
Cuomo insisted that the abortion section wasn’t controversial and accused the press of mischaracterizing the bill.
“The language on the choice issue is different than what the opponents have suggested, different from what the press has been writing,” he said. “‘A bill that expands, extends’—none of that was true. That’s what the opposition needs to foment more opposition and fear. The language does none of that.” Cuomo repeated over and over that the bill only codifies Roe v. Wade, and said the proposal is simply “affirming a right that already exists.”
In a statement, New Yorkers for Life said under the proposal New York would be “forbidden” from offering protection to “fully-formed unborn children in the final months of gestation.”
Under current New York law, someone who murdered a woman more than 24 weeks pregnant would face homicide charges for the mother and the baby. Cuomo’s proposal would repeal that part of the criminal code.
The proposal also would repeal the criminal code against 2nd-degree abortion—a statute, for example, that resulted in a guilty plea for a man who attempted to abort a woman’s baby by putting a drug in her drink. (See our story from this current issue to learn about cases in which New York prosecuted individuals under these criminal statutes.) The proposal also would repeal the criminal statutes against manslaughter in the course of an abortion.
Cuomo’s bill stripped out some of the proposals in a bill he originally pushed, the Reproductive Health Act. For one, the new proposal keeps a portion of the criminal code that authorizes the coroner or medical examiner to investigate a suspicious death by criminal abortion.
“It’s a more concise version of the Reproductive Health Act,” explained Edward Mechmann, who works on abortion policy at the Archdiocese of New York. The archdiocese said in a statement Tuesday that Cuomo’s bill “runs the serious risk of broadly expanding abortion access at all stages of gestation.”
Cuomo’s bill also affirms the conscience protections of healthcare professionals, but pro-lifers are concerned it provides ineffective legal protection since the bill declares abortion a “right.”
The governor has a few weeks to defeat Republican objections: the legislative session comes to a close at the end of June.