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Senate panel rejects abortion bill
ALBANY -- A key vote in a state Senate committee Tuesday all but ended the prospects of a bill supported by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to further protect the right to late-term abortions.
Senate Democrats acknowledged the vote carried by seven Republicans and two conservative Democrats means the bill won't get to the Senate floor. Democrats could still try to petition the bill directly to the powerful Rules Committee or seek to add it as a "hostile amendment" to another bill in a floor debate, but those efforts also could be thwarted.
A similar abortion measure is also part of Cuomo's 10-point women's rights agenda. Tuesday's vote also appears to end the abortion provision tied to the package for this legislative session.
The vote by the Senate Health Committee to reject the Democrats' Reproductive Health Act bill could loom large for Republicans fighting for election in Democrat-heavy districts, including Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola). He voted against the abortions rights bill.
"To say that we are taking anything back by voting against this bill, I think is a mischaracterization," Martins said in the committee meeting. "This bill expands, it does not retract. So to vote against this bill is to vote against an expansion of abortion rights in the context of a state that approved abortion before Roe v. Wade, in a state that has the highest abortion rate in the country."
Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson (D-Bronx) disagreed. "This will not increase the number of people who will have abortions," she said, noting that the protection is needed for all women, including victims of rape and incest.
The intense politics surrounding the issue has clouded the interpretation over what the bill would do.
Supporters downplayed the practical impact of the measure, with Cuomo insisting it simply matches state law to federal law under the Roe v. Wade court decision in the event that decision is struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. They said the bill won't expand or encourage abortion, but assure a woman's right to make her own decisions.
Opponents contend it would expand the rights to abortions up to birth by health care providers who don't have to be physicians and prompt more abortions.
Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island), a bill supporter, said she knew it would be defeated in committee and would likely be defeated in a full floor vote. But she said the measure continues to gain support and had its longest and highest-level debate ever in the Senate Tuesday.
Even Savino's role in the Independent Democratic Conference, which shares majority control with Republicans, wasn't enough to move the bill to the Senate floor.
Democrats and Republicans said the measure would be a major campaign issue in this year's legislative elections.
"The women of New York deserve a vote, and deserve to know where their elected officials stand on these important issues," said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers), who leads the minority conference of Democrats.
Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) said Democrats pushed the "extreme" measure to attract votes in this year's legislative elections in an attempt to win majority control of the Senate.