By Jessica Bakeman, Albany Bureau
ALBANY - Women's groups and Gov. Andrew Cuomo intend to tweak the abortion provision of the Women's Equality Act to alleviate concerns that the bill might lead to partial-birth abortions in New York.
The groups pushing Cuomo's women's agenda have identified a few Senate Republicans with moderate voting bases as key votes to pass the bill, including Sen. John Bonacic, R-Mt. Hope, Orange County. Bonacic told Gannett's Albany Bureau Wednesday that he is pro-choice but would not support the bill in its current form because he was worried there was "wiggle room in the language to allow" partial-birth abortion.
"The senator said that's his problem, his concern, about partial-birth abortion," Andrea Miller, president of NARAL Pro-Choice New York, told Gannett's Albany Bureau Thursday, referring to Bonacic. "There is a federal ban (on partial-birth abortion) in place that is effective across the nation, including in New York state today, and we hope that he can support this bill if we make crystal clear that nothing that we're doing would affect that federal ban."
The women's agenda includes nine other measures aimed at addressing inequalities, such as provisions to fight pay inequity, pregnancy and housing discrimination and sex trafficking. But the controversial abortion piece has stalled the package in the state Senate, where Republicans intend to block a vote on the legislation.
Since Cuomo announced his intentions to propose the package during his State of the State speech in January, pro-life and pro-choice groups have wrangled over what effects the bill would have.
Pro-life and religious groups argue the bill will expand access to late-term abortion and allow non-doctors to perform the procedure. Cuomo and women's groups said the bill simply codifies federal abortion rights into state law.
The bill would allow late-term abortions when a woman's life or health is in danger, as determined by a licensed physicians, which is consistent with the 1973 landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade.
"Sen. Bonacic's comments yesterday certainly set off a lot of discussion within our coalition and the groups involved, as well as with the people on the second floor, with the governor's office," Miller said. "As you can imagine, we've long been frustrated by mischaracterizations of what this language to align our state laws with Roe would do. But look, we've heard that apparently, it's not clear enough.
"As much as we think that it's very clear, and we keep reiterating that it would not change anything about the federal law that is currently in effect banning partial-birth abortion ... we also understand that we're still hearing the same concern," she continued.
Miller said she hopes clarifying the bill to eliminate concerns about partial-birth abortion will secure the votes necessary to pass the bill. Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos, R-Nassau County, has said he will block a vote on the abortion piece, although he said Republicans support the other nine pieces.
In addition to targeting Bonacic and Sen. Joseph Robach, R-Greece, Monroe County, the groups have also turned up the pressure on Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeffrey Klein, who represents the Bronx and parts of Westchester County.
The IDC controls the Senate with Republicans, and Klein and Skelos must agree on which bills come to the floor. Women's advocates have pushed Klein to use his veto power as leverage to bring the Women's Equality Act to a vote.
Klein has argued that there aren't enough votes to pass it. If these changes help garner the 32 votes needed for passage, the women's groups would push harder for Klein to force a vote.
"If this is what truly is needed, which we deeply hope it is, to make even more clear -- even more clear -- that this will in no way affect the federal ban on partial-birth abortion, we would welcome the senators to join us in getting this historic bill passed, to say that we now have their votes, and urge again that this really does prove that it's time to get this to the floor," Miller finished.