Albany Times Union editorial, Feb. 3, 2013
Our opinion: Comfortable or not, a women’s rights agenda, including abortion rights, should come to the state Senate floor for a vote.
It’s hard to believe we’re arguing about things like equal pay for women, protection for victims of domestic violence, and abortion rights in New York in 2013. But here we are. It’s as good a time as any to reaffirm this state’s heritage as a bastion of women’s rights.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has laid out a women’s agenda that, for the most part, would seem uncontroversial. Laws that would go after workplace sexual harassment, human trafficking, discrimination of domestic violence victims and pregnant women would hardly seem like points of contention in a state that held America’s first women’s rights conference in 1848.
So what’s the real objection to the governor’s initiative? Undoubtedly, for many it comes down to opposing a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion.
The governor’s wants passage of a bill that would allow a woman to obtain an abortion at least up to 24 weeks, or the point of fetal “viability” — when a fetus can survive outside the womb without extraordinary medical measures. It would allow doctors to use their best judgment in deciding whether a late term abortion is necessary to protect a woman’s life or health.
There is nothing radical about this. It is essentially federal law. New York would mainly be updating unconstitutional, unenforced statutes enacted before the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision established a woman’s right of choice. It would also move the state’s abortion laws out of the penal code, where abortion is allowed under certain circumstances as “justifiable homicide,” and put it into health law where medical matters belong.
So what’s the problem? This: The bill asks lawmakers to affirm a woman’s right to make a health care choice that some people and politicians would prefer to make for her. Many of these legislators have managed to get by for years with the stock phrase, “I agree that Roe v. Wade is the law of the land.”
Well, in New York in 2013, that’s not quite enough. Grudging acceptance is not only not support, it’s deceit. It’s a way for lawmakers to squirm away from the question of whether they would change the law if they could — which someday they may well be able to do if the U.S. Supreme Court tilts far enough to the right to overturn Roe v. Wade.
New York’s passage of a Reproductive Health Act, then, would be an opportunity for the state to protect a woman’s right to choose regardless of the political tilt of the high court.
We recognize that some legislators are uncomfortable with this and would prefer it not come to a vote. And that’s a possible scenario in the state Senate, now run by a coalition of Republicans and breakaway Democrats. Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos opposes the bill, and could block it from coming to the floor.
That would be a disappointing development in the Senate’s experiment in coalition politics, in which, we were led to believe, important legislation would no longer be bottled up in committee. That tactic is all the more frustrating when bills would likely succeed if put to a vote on the floor, as is the case with this one. The Independent Democratic Conference, the Republicans’ coalition partner, should consider its credibility on the line if it can’t get such key legislation to the floor.
Lawmakers have every right to take a stand either for or against abortion rights. Indeed, it is their responsibility to do so. They should be honest enough to stand up for what they believe, in a vote, for all to see. Anything less is cowardice.