NEW YORK—During the final hours of the current legislative session, Democrats in the New York state Senate sought to pass Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s controversial abortion bill, but Republicans and two Democrats succeeded in tabling it, by one vote.
The last-minute tactic to pass the abortion provision of the Women’s Equality Act (WEA) came after days of wrangling. On Tuesday pro-life advocates had thought the abortion bill was defeated for this session (see “Cuomo concedes a round,” June 18), but they voiced caution at the time. And that caution was warranted: Senate Democrats attached the bill as a hostile amendment to another bill about medical records. A hostile amendment changes the nature of the underlying bill.
Sen. Jeff Klein, the leader of the coalition of four Democrats who share power with the Republicans in the Senate, introduced the abortion amendment. The presiding president of the Senate, Sen. Diane Savino (also a member of that Democratic coalition), declared the amendment germane. Then a Republican senator appealed that ruling: 32 senators voted to table the amendment, including two Democrats, and 31 voted to keep the amendment, according to Kathleen Gallagher of the New York Catholic Conference, who was at the state Capitol in Albany to monitor the abortion bill. That vote defeated the amendment, and pro-life groups celebrated.
“We have defeated abortion expansion in New York state!” Gallagher wrote supporters.
The two Democrats who voted against the abortion amendment—Simcha Felder (D-Brooklyn) and Ruben Diaz Sr. (D-Bronx)—are pro-life. In the debate over the amendment, Diaz, who is also a Pentecostal pastor, rose and spoke forcefully against it.
Cuomo’s abortion legislation would legalize abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy for the physical or emotional health of the mother. It would also strike criminal penalties related to abortion. For one, it would remove a portion of New York criminal law that considers the murder of a woman more than 24 weeks pregnant a double homicide.
NARAL Pro-Choice New York was still displeased with Klein, saying his effort to introduce the bill as an amendment was “feeble.”
On Thursday the Democrat-controlled Assembly passed Cuomo’s WEA as a whole, including the abortion provision (though seven Democrats voted against it). In the Senate Cuomo initially had refused to break up the 10-part WEA into separate bills, in the hopes that the abortion provision would pass with the nine other measures that had broad support. But as the Senate Republican leadership steadfastly refused to bring the WEA to the floor, Cuomo agreed later in the week to break the bill into 10 parts.
Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos still refused to bring the separate abortion bill to the floor, which is why Klein had to resort to the hostile amendment tactic. On Friday night the Senate passed nine of 10 WEA provisions, all but the abortion one.
Cuomo could bring the abortion bill back for consideration during the next legislative session.