By CARA MATTHEWS
Gannett Albany Bureau
ALBANY - The issue of abortion rights is becoming a key debate in the race for attorney general.
As Planned Parenthood Advocates of New York endorsed Democrat Eric Schneiderman for attorney general Tuesday, the group made a case for how important it is to have a pro-active, pro-choice person in the office. His opponent, Republican Dan Donovan of Staten Island, is pro-life but said he would enforce any current or future law.
There's a big difference between having a pro-choice leader as attorney general and someone who's just going to enforce the law, said Tracey Brooks, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Advocates.
"The attorney general's office has a leadership role and position in ensuring that our health-care providers, our volunteers and our patients are protected," Brooks said.
Schneiderman, a state senator from Manhattan, said attorney generals have the power to step in and to protect patients and staff at clinics where abortions are performed. The attorney general has to sign off on hospital mergers and could decide to block them if doing so would reduce access to abortion, he said.
"I promise you, if there's harassment at clinics, you're not going to have someone who takes a passive approach and waits to see if the problem just goes away with me," he said.
Donovan, Staten Island district attorney, opposes abortion except in cases of rape or incest, but he has pledged to enforce all laws as attorney general and "aggressively prosecute anyone who attempts to interfere with that right," said Virginia Lam, his campaign spokeswoman.
"District Attorney Donovan believes the attorney general is duty-bound to enforce the law as written and intended, and that includes a woman's right to choose," spokeswoman Virginia Lam said.
Lam accused Schneiderman of trying to deflect attention off other important issues in New York.
"State Senator Schneiderman is yet again trying to shift the conversation away from the pressing issues facing our state, namely, rooting out corruption and fraud in our state government - a dysfunctional government he has been a part of the past 12 years," Lam said.
Donovan has not sought or received an endorsement from the state Right to Life Party, she said.
Carl Paladino, the Republican candidate for governor, has been endorsed by the Right to Life Party.
The party doesn't have an automatic line on the ballot anymore. In different parts of the state, candidates who gather enough petition signatures have a Right to Life line on the ballot.
Schneiderman and Planned Parenthood Advocates said Robert Abrams, state attorney general from 1979 to 1993, was active in protecting abortion rights. He brought cases to protect clinics from protesters. They said it's important to have someone in the office who wouldn't delay payments to health-care clinics that contract with the state.
Beyond that, the attorney general "has a role to play in the national struggle for freedom of choice," Schneiderman said.
Current attorney general Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, is running for governor.
Schneiderman accused Donovan of trying to "avoid this issue by saying that the attorney general has nothing to do with freedom of choice."
Schneiderman has criticized Donovan for not attempting to distance himself from the views of Paladino, who opposes abortion, even in cases of rape and incest.
Donovan is running an independent campaign focused on his policy proposals and agenda for the office, Lam said Tuesday.
"We aren't commenting on anyone else's campaign. Dan's position on a woman's right to choose her reproductive health is clear," Lam said.
NARAL Pro-Choice New York endorsed Schneiderman during the Democratic primary for attorney general, spokeswoman Samantha Levine said. One of his pledges is to make sure abortion is included in health coverage in insurance exchanges required under the federal health-care reform law, she said.
Gannett ContentOne - Albany, NY