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Zeldin: 'I'm not in this race because of abortion'; Hochul remains skeptical

Lee Zeldin, the Republican candidate for New York governor, speaks Friday, Sept. 23, 2022, at the state Business Council meeting in Bolton Landing.
Karen DeWitt
Lee Zeldin, the Republican candidate for New York governor, speaks Friday, Sept. 23, 2022, at the state Business Council meeting in Bolton Landing.

The Republican candidate for governor, Lee Zeldin, said Friday that even though he is opposed to abortion rights, he respects the views of those who disagree with him and would not make big changes in the state’s abortion rights laws.

But his opponent, Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul, isn’t buying it.

The Long Island congressman told the state’s Business Council at its annual meeting that he’s focused on reducing taxes and crime and improving the economy. Speaking to reporters, Zeldin said though he considers himself to be pro-life, the issue is not dominating his campaign.

He also said he has no plans to try to repeal the 2019 law that codified the rights in the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision into New York state law. Roe was overturned by the high court in June.

“I’m not in this race because of abortion,” Zeldin said. “I’m not standing here today proposing to roll back that law. I’m not planning to roll back that law.”

Zeldin, when pressed, would not completely rule out any executive orders or changes to the state health department's policies that provide funding and assistance for women from states where abortion is banned or limited to receive services here.

But he said his background is in the legislature, and he is philosophically opposed to unilateral actions by chief executives. He said he would also listen to the “will of the people” of the state.

“In some other darker red state, there might be a very different perspective on whether or not taxpayers should have to pay for people to come into the state for an abortion from another state,” Zeldin said. “Versus what the will of the people may be in a blue state like New York.”

Hochul has been running television ads that portray Zeldin as “extreme” on abortion and not suitable to lead New York.

Hochul, who also spoke at the gathering, told the media that she stands by that description.

“Someone who, running for governor in the state of New York, who applauded and cheered the overturning of Roe v. Wade,” Hochul said. “I stand by my assessment. That’s how I define an extremist.”

Hochul told the business leaders that she believes New York’s abortion rights laws will help the state’s economy and draw more high-tech companies and workers from other states, like Texas, where abortion is heavily restricted.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment and interviews newsmakers. Karen previously worked for WINS Radio, New York, and has written for numerous publications, including Adirondack Life and the Albany newsweekly Metroland.