New York State’s Political Chaos: Damaging to Women


For the past week, we’ve been watching the political circus that has
become our state government, glued to our computer screens for the
unfolding story.

But there’s another story that hasn’t yet been told.

While
you saw two men cross the aisle, I sat in the New York Senate chamber
and saw three years of hard work and real coalition-building in the
service of women’s health go up in smoke. While you watched the lights
go out in the Senate chamber, I watched the state go dark on
reproductive rights.

Because last Wednesday, the Reproductive
Health Act — landmark legislation to codify Roe vs. Wade in New York
— was scheduled to be voted upon in the Senate. NARAL Pro-Choice New
York and other advocates had commitments from 34 senators, across party
lines, to pass a clean, amendment-free bill.

With passage of
this legislation, every woman in New York would have been assured that
her fundamental right to choose abortion would be protected.
Critically, the Reproductive Health Act would also have clarified that
a woman would be allowed to have an abortion if her health or life was
endangered. The bill, which has been loudly debated for three years,
was going to be voted on quietly and respectfully so that each senator
could fully vote his or her conscience.

But two days earlier,
the Republicans — with the help of Sen. Pedro Espada and Sen. Hiram
Monserrate, both Democrats, ostensibly — engineered a coup that took
down the pro-choice Senate leadership and attempted to reinstate the
same anti-choice Republicans who’ve been blocking pro-choice
legislation for 40 years.

This maneuver appears to have
effectively derailed the bill — ironically, as both Monserrate and
Espada are co-sponsors of the Reproductive Health Act.

One would
think that Monserrate, of all people, might want to make women’s issues
a priority. One would think Espada, whose health center serves
low-income women, might want to make women’s health a priority. One
would think that Sen. Dean Skelos, who really ought to be noticing the
national trend away from Bush-era extremism, might want to make women’s
issues a priority.

Women’s health and rights matter in New
York. Polls have repeatedly shown that nearly three quarters of New
Yorkers (across all party lines and demographics) support the
Reproductive Health Act.

Yet the anti-choice Republican
leadership has maintained a stranglehold on the Senate, kowtowing to
fringe interests. The behavior of Skelos reveals the lie behind his
so-called coalition and its claim of bipartisanship and reform. New
Yorkers thought they had pro-choice leadership in the state Senate, a
decision that Skelos and his cronies are now effectively rejecting at
their peril.

Women in New York have held a powerful role in
swinging elections toward Democrats and moderate Republicans. No
statewide elected official in over a decade has been anti-choice. You
simply do not win in New York by taking that position.

Regardless
of who leads the Senate in the coming weeks, we call upon legislators
of both parties to come together and pass a clean Reproductive Health
Act, without larding it up with amendments that could compromise
women’s health.

The Reproductive Health Act is ready. Women are waiting. Let’s finish the story.

This op-ed first appeared in the Albany Times-Union.

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