A Democratic New York state senator is pushing a bill to establish one of the most liberal state abortion laws in the country by effectively codifying Roe v. Wade.
Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) has racheted up the battle to make the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark abortion decision the law of the Empire State, by using a rare parliamentary maneuver to force a committee hearing in the Republican-controlled Senate. The bill would seek to expand the state's 42-year-old abortion law in the event that Roe v. Wade should ever be overturned.
"There are a lot of people on other side who express a desire to overturn Roe," Stewart-Cousins said, noting that there is a desire to codify the law in New York, which she described as a "progressive state."
Stewart-Cousins' bill includes language that would allow abortions to be performed after 24 weeks of pregnancy, sets a standard for fetal viability and moves the abortion law from the state's criminal code to the state's health code, along with removing manslaughter laws against those who get an abortion after 24 weeks. The bill would also drop state laws that deny contraception to those under the age of 16, that require contraception to be sold by licensed pharmacists and that forbid its public display. The latter contraception laws were suspended following a 1972 Supreme Court ruling on the subject.
"Our laws are a little antiquated in relation to Roe," Stewart-Cousins said.
To force consideration of the bill before the Senate Health Committee, Stewart-Cousins this week filed a discharge petition requiring a meeting on the bill in the next 45 days. She said she was doing to this to provide the necessary health committee vote before the codes committee has to review the bill.
A spokesman for state Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City), the health committee chairman, did not return a call for comment on the bill and Stewart-Cousins' petition.
Stewart-Cousins faces long odds to get the bill passed in the Senate, where Republicans control the chamber 32-29, with one vacancy. She has 18 Democratic colleagues signed on to support the bill, with four Democratic senators who caucus independently of the party who have expressed support for the measure. She is likely to face opposition from at least two Democratic senators who are anti-abortion. Stewart-Cousins has sponsored the bill annually since 2007, including in the two years when Democrats controlled the Senate. A similar Assembly measure, sponsored by Assemblywoman Deborah Glick (D-Greenwich Village), has passed her chamber's health committee and faces an easier passage in the Democrat-controlled Assembly.
Stewart-Cousins said she is undeterred, and notes that a bipartisan legislature first legalized abortion in New York in 1970. During that vote, then-Majority Leader Earl Brydges (R-Wilson), a staunch abortion opponent, placed the bill in front of the Republican Senate expecting a defeat, when several GOP senators voted in favor.
The New York bill comes as most state legislatures are considering abortion and contraception bans, and while a debate continues at the federal level over the Obama administration's decision to require religious organizations to provide insurance coverage for contraception. This week Virginia lawmakers defeated the state's personhood bill and removed language that would've required transvaginal ultrasounds; while New Hampshire lawmakers are considering dropping contraception insurance coverage mandates for companies and some there have suggested that married couples practice abstinence and that birth control is linked to prostate cancer.
Stewart-Cousins said that these recent developments in other states are on her mind.
"There is concern in New York right now that if it's back in the states, we could have a situation where our Republican colleagues don't want to deal with reproductive health at all," she said.