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Reproductive rights again an issue in Albany

Karen DeWitt
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul at the Family Planning Advocates Day of Action in Albany Monday.

It’s been more than 40 years since the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing a women’s right to choose an abortion, but advocates say New York lawmakers have yet to translate the provisions of the landmark Supreme Court decision into law in the state.

New York already has laws legalizing abortion rights, approved in 1970. But, advocates say they’re outdated and the legislation needs to be upgraded to protect women if the Supreme Court ever reverses the Roe v. Wade decision.

Cuomo, who supports the measure, known as the reproductive health act, did not attend a rally with family planning advocates at the Capitol. But, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul spoke.

Cuomo initially wanted to include the reproductive rights bill as part of a package that he named the Women’s Equality Act, but it was opposed by Republicans in the state Senate. Cuomo eventually dropped it from the list in favor of getting some of the other provisions passed. They include making it easier for women to sue for equal pay and anti-human-trafficking measures.

Hochul said she knows of some GOP senators, who she would not name, who are supportive of voting for the abortion rights measure and she says she’s hopeful that election year pressures could encourage them to join Democrats to provide enough votes for passage.

“When their constituents have an opportunity to explain to them how important to this,” said Hochul, who said it’s early yet in the process.

Credit Karen DeWitt / WRVO News
State Sen. John Bonacic (R).

The lone Senate Republican to address the planned parenthood lobbyists, John Bonacic of the Hudson Valley, said he’s in favor of the bill and would vote for it if it came to the floor. He said he believes there is “quiet support” among other Republicans.

“I don’t believe in abortions,” said Bonacic, who said he is strongly Catholic. But, he said his wife and daughter are pro-choice.

“We should never deprive women of access to health care that they chose and their medical providers say is best for them,” Bonacic said.

But Bonacic cast some doubt on whether the Senate Republicans as a group would permit the measure to come to the floor for a vote, saying he thinks election pressures will cause closet supporters of the bill to be even more cautious.

“The stakes may be higher, where people won’t have the courage to embrace this now,” the senator said. “Your guess is as good as mine.”

The leader of the Senate Democrats, who are in the minority in that house, also said it’s dubious that any vote will occur. Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins said no GOP senator has actually signed onto the bill.

“I don’t have any bipartisan support,” Cousins said.

One other issue left out of the Women’s Equality Act is paid family leave. Cuomo pledged in his State of the State address to fight for a bill to require companies to offer 12 weeks of leave.

But, Cuomo said later that his plan would only allow workers to receive about 1/3 of their regular pay if they take the leave. It would require each worker to pay one dollar per pay period to contribute to the fund.

Hochul was asked if she thinks that’s adequate.

“Well right now, you’re looking at zero,” Hochul said.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said his house has a more comprehensive plan on family leave that he continues to support.

“We believe the Assembly’s version is a better version,” said Heastie, who said he’s open to negotiations.

The Assembly Democrats’ plan would draw on the state’s temporary disability insurance fund to partially pay workers salaries when they request leave .

Senate Republican Leader John Flanagan, said he likes the ideas in the governor’s plan, and said his members will discuss it.

“The  devil is in the details,” said Flanagan, who said a lot of his members care very deeply about paid family leave.

The Assembly approved a related reproductive health measure. It would require insurance plans to cover all FDA-approved contraceptive devices, without co-payments or deductibles.

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.