Women's Agenda Languishes as Senate Blocks Abortion Vote

7:56 PM, Jun 21, 2013   |    comments
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By Jon Campbell, Gannett Albany Bureau

ALBANY - A slate of bills on women's issues appeared destined to languish Friday after the Senate narrowly blocked a vote on a much-debated measure on New York's abortion laws.

After months of debate and a pledge from Republicans to block a bill that would cement federal abortion rights in state law, Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein, D-Bronx, attempted to force a vote by introducing a "hostile amendment" -- an occasionally used by rarely successful procedural maneuver that allows a bill to be changed as its being debated on the floor.

But Senate Republicans and Bronx Sen. Ruben Diaz, D-Bronx -- a pro-life minister -- voted to keep the amendment from being put to a vote, ruling it non-germane.

The procedural jousting seemingly put an end to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's 10-point "Women's Equality Act," with the Senate approving the remaining nine measures Friday evening and Assembly Democrats refusing to consider the bill piecemeal. The Assembly passed Cuomo's full bill Thursday.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, said the Assembly was not planning to take up the women's right agenda again Friday, regardless of how the Senate acted. He said the issue could be broached later in the year. The session ended Friday.

"I don't think it's going to be possible today," Silver said late Friday afternoon. "If they pass a choice bill, I can assure you our members will be back here doing it. If they don't pass a choice bill, the governor and our members will be in dialogue and determine what route to take."

The abortion provision in Cuomo's plan largely divided the two houses of the Legislature by party, and it dominated discussion over the bill. The package also included pay-equity legislation and was designed to bolster New York's sexual harassment and human trafficking laws.

Since January, Senate Co-Leader Dean Skelos, R-Nassau County, steadfastly refused to put the abortion measure to a vote, with Klein's maneuver Friday bypassing his Republican counterpart. The Klein-led Independent Democratic Conference shares control of the Senate with Republicans.

In a statement, Klein said it was a "sad day for the New York State Senate."

 "New York has historically been a leader in the fight to protect a woman's right to choose," Klein said.

The blocking of the abortion amendment drew praise from the New York State Catholic Conference, which called it a "remarkable victory for unborn children." The group, which represents the state's bishops, aggressively lobbied against the measure while claiming it would expand access to late-term abortions in the state.

 "The result is, quite literally, the answer to prayer," the group wrote of the procedural maneuvering Friday.

Cuomo huddled behind closed doors with women members of the Assembly after they suggested they wouldn't take up the other nine planks of his plan without the abortion bill. They emerged to say that they were still hopeful to get all 10 points adopted into law, but were waiting to see what action was taken in the Senate.

 "We voted (Thursday) with the package of 10," said Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, D-Binghamton. "The majority of New York voters are for the package. And that's what we told (the governor) we want to get accomplished."

Earlier Friday, Cuomo said it was "absurd" and "unimaginable" if the Assembly didn't act on the remainder of his women's agenda and the Senate did.

Assemblywoman Annie Rabbitt, R-Greenwood Lake, Orange County, said Friday was "one of those days that I am ashamed to be a member of the New York State Assembly."

She suggested Silver was standing behind the abortion measure as a way to deflect attention from his handling of sexual harassment allegations against former Assemblyman Vito Lopez. Silver was criticized in an ethics report earlier this year for swiftly dealing with Lopez and for agreeing to a secret $103,000 settlement with two of Lopez's accusers.

Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, knocked Republicans for blocking the abortion vote.

 "In our state, women's health has never been a Republican or Democratic issue," she said in a statement. "I find it shocking that ... not one Senate Republican stood up for women's equality."

JCAMPBELL1@gannett.com

Twitter.com/JonCampbellGAN

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