Activists seek vote on women's rights bill

Long Islanders gather in Lynbrook at a rally

Long Islanders gather in Lynbrook at a rally to urge Sen. Dean Skelos to bring the Women's Equality Act to the floor of the state Senate for a vote. (June 15, 2013) (Credit: Jeremy Bales)

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Five days before the end of the state legislative session, roughly 150 women's rights activists gathered in Lynbrook Saturday to call on Senate co-leader Dean Skelos to allow a vote on a bill that would strengthen abortion rights for New Yorkers.

Brandishing signs reading "Women's Rights Are Human Rights" and chanting "Bring it to the floor," advocates pushed for a vote on Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's 10-point Women's Equality Act.

Senate Republicans have refused to bring the bill to the floor until a provision, which codifies under state law abortion rights guaranteed on the federal level, is removed.

But powerful women's groups, including local leaders of Planned Parenthood, vowed to hold Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx), the co-leaders in the Senate, accountable at the ballot box if a vote is not permitted on the entire package.

"Sen. Skelos, you have two choices: Help us make history or become history," Andrea Miller, president and chief executive of NARAL Pro-Choice New York, said at the rally, held at the corner of Sunrise Highway and Ocean Avenue.

Most of the legislation has bipartisan support, with provisions protecting victims of domestic violence, sexual harassment and human trafficking.

The stumbling block has been the abortion language.

Federal law permits late-term abortions after 24 weeks if a woman's life or health is at risk. But state law allows the procedure only if the mother's life is at risk. The bill would match state law to the federal statute.

"We are confident that an agreement can be reached on 9 out of 10 points of the overall proposal, allowing us to achieve passage of a strong women's equality agenda for New York," said Skelos spokeswoman Kelly Cummings.

Protesters argued Skelos was protecting his members from a potentially uncomfortable vote. "We expect our elected leaders to stand up and be counted," said Phyllis Seitz of Lynbrook. "But Sen. Skelos is keeping the entire Senate from being counted."

Klein's office declined to comment on the protest.

Under a coalition agreement, Skelos and Klein must both agree to bring a bill to the floor for a vote.

The measure is expected to easily clear the Democratically-controlled Assembly. The legislative session ends June 20.

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