Cuomo official defends abortion proposal

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, left, and Counsel New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, left, and Counsel to the Governor Mylan Denerstein in Albany. (Feb. 20, 2013) Photo Credit: AP

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ALBANY -- For the second time in less than a month, a top Cuomo official has penned an opinion piece saying the administration's abortion proposal wouldn't expand abortion rights but merely sync state statutes with federal law.

The rapid sequence of claim and counterclaim suggested Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is continuing to face blowback on the proposal, particularly from conservatives.

The opinion piece by Mylan Denerstein, Cuomo's counsel, emailed to media outlets Monday said opponents were making "repeated false statements" and "were wrong to grossly mischaracterize" the governor's proposal. She said Cuomo's new proposal -- which has not been put in writing yet -- would follow the federal law by allowing abortions if a mother's health is in danger, not just her life.

"Opponents have misleadingly argued that the Governor would create 'abortion on demand' because of the inclusion of a 'health exemption' of the mother. However, a health exemption is already the law of the land," Denerstein wrote.

Abortion opponents said Cuomo was trying to distinguish his initiative from a so-called Reproductive Health Act proposed by Democrats in the state Legislature. Cuomo, in his State of the State address, called for enacting the measure -- though he has since distanced himself from that.

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"If the governor wants us to believe something different concerning his abortion-expansion agenda, then show us something different. Until then, we'll take him at his word as stated in his State of the State address," said the Rev. Jason McGuire, head of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, a lobby group of evangelical ministers.

Cuomo is making the push for a "women's agenda" just after successfully enacting a comprehensive gun-control law -- a political victory that triggered a slip in his political ratings. That could make it harder for the Democrat to win over legislators, particularly upstate Republican senators made skittish by the enacting of the gun-control law, analysts said.

Further, "I think he's losing a little bit of his popularity here," said Bruce Altschuler, a political science professor with the State University of New York Oswego. "He just got used to steamrolling things through . . . he's gotten the budget on time every year, and I think he's not used to getting resistance."

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Cuomo's 10-point agenda for women bundles abortion in with pay equity, stronger laws against sex trafficking and other items. Some abortion opponents have called on the governor to separate the subject from the other issues, which they have said they could support. Asked if he would do so, Cuomo last week made no promises: "All ten are important and we are negotiating them now as one package."

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) has signaled his support for Cuomo's plan, but Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) said Republicans would block what he considers an expansion of late-term abortion rights.M. Tracey Brooks, president of Family Planning Advocates, said the second opinion piece was a sign of strength by Cuomo, saying: "The more he's talking, the more he's taking leadership on the issue."

Michael Long, chairman of the Conservative Party, which last year blocked re-election bids by a few Republican senators who voted for gay marriage, said his party's executive committee would have to decide whether to take a similar stand with abortion.

"I really cannot imagine any right-minded legislator passing legislature to liberalize New York's abortion laws any further," Long said. "It's just wrong legislation."

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