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NYS Legislature Votes to Strengthen Abortion Rights; Gov. Cuomo Signs it Into Law

Karen DeWitt

The New York State legislature voted to codify the abortion rights in the U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v Wade into New York law.  Hours later, Governor Cuomo signed it into law.

The measure establishes in New York State law the right to choose abortion without restriction up to the 24th week of pregnancy, and after that, if the life or health of the mother is threatened, or the fetus is determined not to be viable.

Senate Democratic Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who achieved her post when Democrats won several seats in last November’s elections, says the bill is a top priority at time when President Donald Trump’s appointments to the Supreme Court threaten the landmark decision.

That moment where they actually, on a national level, might reverse women’s rights, is here,” Stewart-Cousins said. “Today, in New York, we are saying no.”

The Democratic led State Assembly has already approved the measure several times. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, speaking at a packed press conference attended by supporters, says for twelve years Republicans, who used to lead the Senate, blocked the bill from coming up for a vote.

Always, in my heart I knew the Senate Republicans would never, ever allow this bill to get to the floor,” Heastie said.

During debate on the Senate floor, several newly elected Democrats rose to explain their vote, saying the measure is long overdue. Freshman Senator Allesandra Biaggi says she was a junior attorney in the governor’s office working on the reproductive health act, just a couple of years ago, where she was told by others that the measure would never pass. She says, now that has been rectified.

I hope that all of New York is watching today, and that they recognize that elections have consequences,” Biaggi said. “When you vote for people who stand up for your rights, your rights become protected.”

Several Republican Senators voted no, including Senator Daphne Jordan, who said strengthening abortion rights contributes to what she calls a “throw away” culture.

"A baby inside its mother is not an inanimate object, it’s a life,” said Jordan. “Think about what you’re allowing to be tossed away with a yes vote.”

Some GOP Senators also expressed concerns over what they say is an unintended consequence of the bill. The measure decriminalizes all forms of abortion in New York, even in domestic violence cases where an attack on a woman leads to the loss of her fetus.

Senator Kathy Young a Republican from Olean, says because of that,  the bill takes away some rights from pregnant women. She offered an amendment that would make it a class D felony for “knowingly assaulting a pregnant woman”, whether or not the fetus is lost.

Why aren’t we protecting pregnant women from having their babies taken away from them, especially in such a violent manner?” Young asked.

The amendment was voted down along party lines.

The Senate sponsor of the Reproductive Health Act, Liz Krueger, says all of the state’s major anti domestic violence advocacy groups back the measure. And she says there are already multiple crimes that the perpetrator of assault on a pregnant woman can be charged with.  

We have very strict criminal statutes for when people attack people,” Krueger said.

Advocates were exhilarated by the vote.  Robin Chappelle- Golston, with Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts, the lobby group for Planned Parenthoods in New York says it’s a “great day”.

It’s huge,” Chappelle- Golston said. “People have been working on this issue for over a decade."

Opponents, including the Catholic Church and some evangelical protestant groups , says they are saddened by the vote. 

Both houses of the legislature also approved a measure , known as the Comprehensive Contraceptive Care Act, that would ensure that New York’s women have access, through their health insurance policies, to affordable contraceptives


Within hours of passing the legislature, Gov. Cuomo signed the legislation, and issues these remarks.  

"In the face of a federal government intent on rolling back Roe v. Wade and women's reproductive rights, I promised that we would pass this critical legislation within the first 30 days of the new session - and we got it done.  Today we are taking a giant step forward in the hard-fought battle to ensure a woman's right to make her own decisions about her own personal health, including the ability to access an abortion. With the signing of this bill, we are sending a clear message that whatever happens in Washington, women in New York will always have the fundamental right to control their own body."

Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul, who presided over the Senate vote, released this statement:

"As keepers of the torch for women's rights that was first ignited in New York State back in 1848, we have a moral responsibility to continue this fight today. Thanks to an election that saw record numbers of women elected to office, I presided over the State Senate and we finally enacted the Reproductive Health Act to protect the rights of women across our great state. We act today on the anniversary of the groundbreaking decision of Roe v. Wade and recognize the threat we face from a Supreme Court determined to overturn protections that have been in place for over four decades. Today is an historic day for women in New York, and I'm proud that we are working every day to ensure full equality and safety for women."