A key piece of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Agenda failed to pass a senate committee vote Tuesday. The Women’s Reproductive Health Act, which would have expanded access to abortion care in the state, was blocked by Republicans and seems unlikely to pass the legislature this session.
S 438, sponsored by senate Democratic leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (Yonkers), would allow nurse practitioners to perform some abortion procedures and would expand the criteria under which women can access later abortions; under current law, an abortion can be performed after 24 weeks only to save a woman’s life, but S 438 would have allowed a doctor to perform an abortion to “preserve a woman’s life or health.”
The bill includes language that was not included in the version of the Reproductive Health Act introduced during the last legislative session as part of Cuomo’s ten-piece legislative package.
S 438 was defeated in the Senate Standing Committee on Health by a 9-8 vote mostly along party lines; the eight Republicans on the committee were joined by a conservative Democrat to vote against the bill.
Sen. Greg Ball (R-Patterson) issued a statement Monday in advanced of the hearing calling the bill “an affront to all New Yorkers and an assault on women.”
Kelly Cummings, spokesperson for the senate Republicans, said in a statement after the hearing that Republicans “won’t let reckless Senate Democrats jeopardize the health and safety of women, nor will we let them endanger their basic reproductive health just to make a political statement.”
To secure a committee hearing for the bill, Stewart-Cousins used a procedural maneuver allowed under the senate’s rules that permits each senator to file up to three “motions for committee consideration,” which requires a committee to take up the bill within 45 days.
There are other procedural moves that Democrats can resort to to bring the bill to the floor, including a petition to move the bill directly to the rules committee. However, while Democrats have a slim majority in the senate, Republicans would likely be able to block any such maneuvers.
After the hearing, senate Democrats released a statement saying that the legislation deserves a vote by the full senate. “Women’s health is not a Republican or Democratic issue,” said Stewart-Cousins in the release. “The women of New York deserve a vote, and deserve to know where their elected officials stand on these important issues.”
Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) addressed the importance of the legislation to women’s reproductive health. “Right now, a woman in New York State could need to terminate her pregnancy for medical reasons to protect her own health, and could still be required to go to another state to get the care she needs,” said Krueger. “We are angered, but not surprised, that the Senate majority coalition has once again chosen to stand in the way of these reforms.”
Newsday reports that the legislation will be a major campaign issue for Republicans and Democrats during this year’s legislative elections, which could sway control over the closely contested senate.