Kathleen Rice challenges foe on abortion-rights stand; he's also a supporter

Kathleen Rice, current Nassau County District Attorney and Kathleen Rice, current Nassau County District Attorney and Democratic primary candidate for Congress 4th District, poses for a portrait on May 12, 2014. Photo Credit: James Escher

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Democratic congressional candidate Kathleen Rice on Monday accepted the endorsement of abortion-rights advocates as she challenged her Republican opponent, Bruce Blakeman, to "say whether or not he believes in a woman's constitutional right to reproductive health."

Rice, the Nassau district attorney, is vying against Blakeman, a former presiding officer of the Nassau County Legislature, to succeed retiring Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola) in the state's 4th Congressional District. Her call -- made at a news conference at her Garden City campaign office -- prompted Blakeman's campaign late in the day to say he also supports abortion rights.

But Rice and her supporters said she's the only candidate who has been outspoken and passionate about the issue.

"There's no doubt about where I stand and what I believe. I stand for choice, I stand for constitutional freedom and I stand for access to health care that's unrestricted by my boss' personal beliefs," Rice said, flanked by NARAL Pro-Choice New York and Planned Parenthood of Nassau County Action Fund leaders. "Unfortunately, we don't know if the same can be said for my opponent."

Rice's team said Blakeman accepted the endorsement of the anti-abortion Conservative Party and didn't speak out against the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said family-owned corporations can't be forced to cover their employees' contraception under the Affordable Care Act.

But Blakeman spokesman Matt Coleman, while not going into detail on his candidate's platform, said Blakeman "supports a woman's right to choose." Rice's campaign, later in the day, called it "another episode of Blakeman's extreme makeover."

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Coleman also criticized Rice for challenging someone to speak after she has declined to detail her stint co-chairing Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's anti-corruption commission, which was disbanded in March and is under federal investigation.

Rice "is a hypocrite," Coleman said. "She demands Bruce talk about reproductive rights while she stonewalls everyone about her involvement" on the Moreland Commission.

A recent New York Times report said Cuomo's office "deeply compromised" the commission's work, prompting Blakeman to try to tie Rice to the controversy. Rice said she is assisting the U.S. attorney's probe.

Asked about the Times' Moreland characterization, Rice said: "The integrity of this ongoing federal investigation is of paramount importance. I think most people understand that -- and support the assistance I'm giving the U.S. attorney, and that's what I'm going to say about this matter."

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