What's Next for Stalled Women's Equality Push?

4:25 PM, Jun 24, 2013   |    comments
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By Jessica Bakeman and Joseph Spector
Albany Bureau

ALBANY Gov. Andrew Cuomo is pushing for the state Legislature to return to Albany and approve a women's agenda that excludes a controversial abortion provision, but there is dissent among women's groups who crafted the bill whether to accept an incomplete package.

A coalition of 850 separate organizations pushing for Cuomo's Women's Equality Act relented Friday on its previous push for all 10 points of the package or nothing. The piece that would codify federal abortion rights in state law had stalled in the Senate, although lawmakers supported nine other pieces, including those that fought discrimination against women and mothers in employment and housing.

The state Senate and Assembly passed separate versions of Cuomo's women's rights package on Friday. The Democratic-led Assembly passed all 10 points in a single bill. The Senate didn't vote on the abortion measure because of Republicans' opposition, but passed the nine other components.

"That has to be reconciled because those nine laws literally made history," Cuomo told reporters in Buffalo. "The nine laws that we did pass really make a difference for women, and they have to become a reality, and I'm sure they will."

Women's groups and legislators appeared split Friday night on whether the Assembly should take up the nine separate bills, rather than hold out for all 10. The Assembly left without taking action on the nine, despite calls by some women's groups for the Assembly to act.

The leaders of NARAL Pro-Choice New York and Family Planning Advocates, Planned Parenthood's lobbying arm, seem to disagree on the next step for the agenda. The two groups have largely headed up the push for the legislation, and both stressed previously that they weren't willing to separate the abortion plank from the legislation.

Andrea Miller, president of the state's NARAL chapter, said she will continue to push for the entire package, including the abortion piece.

"We now have a situation where both the Assembly and the Senate have an opportunity to ultimately pass the full 10-point agenda, whether it's the Senate taking up the full bill that the Assembly passed, or whether it's the Senate moving forward to pass the 10th, and having the Assembly pass all 10," she said Monday. "Across the board, everyone cares deeply about every piece of this agenda and also believes that the goal of this has always been to move the whole 10 points and to figure out the best path forward."

Tracey Brooks, executive director of Family Planning Advocates, echoed a statement the full coalition released Friday in encouraging the Assembly to approve the other nine measures rather than doing nothing.

"There is one house that's been a failure to women, and that's the New York state Senate," Brooks said Monday. "Failure to pass all 10 is extremely disappointing to the entirety of the coalition.

However, what has passed the Senate are good policy changes that will make a difference in women's lives ... so we've asked the Assembly to come back and pass those."

Brooks said the groups would continue to push the abortion piece next year if the nine points were passed this year, during the second part of the two-year legislative session. But if it doesn't pass, women's advocates will lobby to get more pro-choice senators get elected, she said.

Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, D-Ithaca, said the Assembly should hold out for the abortion piece.

"Women's rights can't be separated out, and certainly reproductive rights are one of the core and most essential rights to women," she said Monday. "It's something the women and, frankly, the people of New York, strongly support."

Assemblywoman Sandra Galef, D-Ossining, Westchester County, said she wants all 10 points too, but said maybe there will be an opportunity for the sides to negotiate a package that would pass both houses.

"We had the pressure of time. So let's let some time go by and have people's thoughts and some meetings and see what direction we go," she said.

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