Abortion rights: Why New York is swimming against the national tide
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has come under fire for proposing a bill relaxing abortion controls even as many other states push restrictions. His office says the bill aims to strengthen Roe v. Wade.
Derek Gee/The Buffalo News/AP
Former Gov. George Pataki, the Roman Catholic Church, and now Fox News host Bill O‚ÄôReilly have joined a growing chorus of voices blasting New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) for championing an abortion bill that would provide access to late-term abortions if a woman‚Äôs health is endangered or the fetus is not viable.
The latest opponent to join the ring, Mr. O‚ÄôReilly, called Governor Cuomo ‚Äúbarbaric‚ÄĚ last Thursday on the Glenn Beck show and said he wants ‚Äúto legalize late-term abortion for any reason ... a migraine headache, a hang nail, a panic attack.‚ÄĚ
It‚Äôs no surprise the governor‚Äôs proposed Reproductive Health Act is gaining so much attention. The chorus of protests began after Cuomo outlined the proposed legislation in his January State of the State address, as part of a broader package¬†of women's rights initiatives. One of the country‚Äôs most liberal pieces of abortion legislation, the bill goes against the national tide, attempting to relax abortion controls at a time when many other states are seeking restrictions.
Last year 19 states enacted 43 provisions restricting abortion access, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion advocacy and research group. Not one measure was adopted to expand abortion access. In 2011, a record-breaking 92 abortion restrictions were enacted.
‚ÄúPretty much all of the energy, all of the momentum, has been to restrict abortion, which makes what could potentially happen in New York so interesting,‚ÄĚ Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute, told The New York Times. ‚ÄúThere‚Äôs no other state that‚Äôs even contemplating this right now.‚ÄĚ
Cuomo‚Äôs office has said his Reproductive Health Act is an effort to reinforce Roe v. Wade to protect the reproductive rights of women should the Supreme Court overturn the court‚Äôs landmark abortion ruling.
"The governor would simply realign our outdated state laws to federal law and existing state practice," said Cuomo‚Äôs counsel, Mylan Denerstein, in an Op-Ed. "The Supreme Court could always change and we want to protect a woman‚Äôs current right to choose."
Cuomo‚Äôs office has said the legislation would not expand state laws beyond federal standards. New York State‚Äôs existing law, which was passed in 1970, currently allows abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy only if a woman‚Äôs life is at risk, while federal law allows late-term abortions to protect a woman‚Äôs health even if her life is not in danger.
The bill ‚Äď one plank of a 10-part Women‚Äôs Equality Act that would also seek to install equal pay, anti-trafficking and anti-discrimination legislation ‚Äď would allow licensed health-care practitioners, not just physicians, to perform abortions. It would also remove abortion from the state‚Äôs penal law and enter it into public health law.
Opponents, led by O‚ÄôReilly, have declared war on Cuomo‚Äôs proposal, saying it would be a radical expansion of abortion laws.
‚ÄúAndrew Cuomo is barbaric. He‚Äôs just barbaric,‚ÄĚ O‚ÄôReilly said on the Glenn Beck show. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs so barbaric that people should be rising up, but you‚Äôre not going to see it because we‚Äôre too busy on our video games. We can‚Äôt pull ourselves away.‚ÄĚ
Later, on his own Fox News show, the conservative TV host said, ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs behind a proposed new law that would allow abortions in New York state to be performed at any time for pretty much any reason. Cuomo wants to decriminalize all abortion activity.‚Ä¶ I do not want my country to be a place of barbarism, and I will fight against that!‚ÄĚ
Taking another dig at Cuomo, O‚ÄôReilly added ‚Äúthe fact that he says he‚Äôs Roman Catholic is just staggering,‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúif there is indeed a judgment day, he better bring a good lawyer.‚ÄĚ
Cuomo‚Äôs Republican predecessor, former Governor Pataki, also expressed disapproval, saying the proposal amounts to ‚Äúpartial birth abortion.‚ÄĚ¬†
‚ÄúIt is the wrong thing to do and I hope that the legislature in its wisdom takes a hard look at this and decides that New York should not,‚ÄĚ Pataki told conservative website Newsmax.
Even the Roman Catholic Church has weighed in.
‚ÄúI am hard pressed to think of a piece of legislation that is less needed or more harmful than this one,‚ÄĚ Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York, said in a letter to Cuomo in January.
In a Jan. 24 Catholic New York column, he added, referring to Albany lawmakers, ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs as though, in their minds, our state motto, ‚ÄėExcelsior‚Äô (‚ÄėEver Upward‚Äô), applies to the abortion rate.‚ÄĚ
Cuomo‚Äôs office is fighting back, calling opponents‚Äô claims ‚Äúwildly false misinformation,‚ÄĚ and insisting that the bill is not an expansion or radical change to existing law.
‚ÄúThe statements made by the opposition are outrageous and disingenuous,‚ÄĚ Mr. Denerstein wrote in the Op-Ed. ‚ÄúThe governor‚Äôs position is to purely codify existing federal law. To be clear, there would be no change whatsoever in law and practice now existing in the state of New York.‚ÄĚ
The battle is just beginning for Cuomo‚Äôs bill, which to become law, must be passed by a split state legislature, including a Democratically-controlled House and a Senate dominated by a coalition of Republicans.