Erbe: On abortion, Andrew Cuomo emerges as women's champion

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo delivers his

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo delivers his third State of the State address at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany. (Jan. 9, 2013) (Credit: AP)

There are woefully few heroes in politics today. But two have emerged in recent weeks from my home state of New York: Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

I've written before about heroic efforts by Bloomberg -- an independent who left the Republican Party and was a Democrat before seeking elective office -- to take on and clobber the National Rifle Association.

Now Cuomo -- the scion of a family that is as Democratic and progressive as they come -- has proposed a 10-point bill to codify women's rights in New York State.


TELL US: For how long in a pregnancy should abortion be legal?


His plan, like Bloomberg's, is highly controversial. It points a finger at many states that are moving right and eliminating women's rights, while his plan moves left.

While Cuomo talked about his Women's Equality Act at his State of the State address in January, he hasn't formally released a copy of the plan. According to the Gotham Gazette, a nonpartisan online news site covering the policies and politics affecting New York City, the act "would include measures to ensure women equal pay to men, tackle discrimination against women who are pregnant, strengthen laws against human trafficking and set a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment in the workplace.

"But," the Gotham Gazette continued, "what drew the greatest attention was Cuomo's proposal to strengthen women's rights to an abortion through the Reproductive Health Act. The bill, which has been sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins since 2007, would take a woman's right to an abortion out of New York's criminal code and make it part of health law, and also (would) allow for late-term abortions if a mother's health is in danger."

It takes incredible guts to stand up for women this way, though the governor walked back somewhat on his original plan after conservative and Republican Party outcries.

Except for several northeastern and West Coast states, including California, most have been moving in the opposite direction since the turn of the millennium. The Alan Guttmacher Institute late last year released a summary of what states have been doing on the abortion front from 2000 and 2011.

True, women's rights extend way beyond abortion rights. But abortion is still the signal issue that speaks volumes about where states stand on all issues affecting women. The institute took into account whether states had passed any laws affecting the right to choose. They tracked whether a state:

-- Mandated parental involvement before a minor's abortion;

-- Required pre-abortion counseling that is medically inaccurate or misleading;

-- Extended a waiting period, paired with a requirement that counseling be conducted in person, necessitating two trips to the facility;

--Mandated a non-medically indicated ultrasound before an abortion;

-- Prohibited Medicaid funding for an abortion except in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest;

-- Restricted abortion coverage in private health insurance plans;

-- Enacted medically inappropriate restrictions on providing medication abortion;

-- Placed on abortion facilities "onerous requirements" not related to patient safety;

-- Enacted unconstitutional bans on abortions before fetal viability or limitations on the circumstances under which an abortion can be performed after viability, and/or

-- Placed a preemptive ban on abortion outright in the event Roe v. Wade is overturned.

The findings are quite troubling to those who believe a woman should have control over her own reproductive functions.

A substantial number of states shifted from moderately anti-abortion to "overtly hostile," the Guttmacher Institute reports.

"In 2000, the country was almost evenly divided, with nearly a third of American women of reproductive age living in states solidly hostile to abortion rights, slightly more than a third in states supportive of abortion rights and close to a third in middle-ground states. By 2011, however, more than half of women of reproductive age lived in hostile states."

So nobody can say that Cuomo is standing up for an easy fix. In fact, New York pundits say he has no better than a 50-50 chance of succeeding -- winning passage of the act -- in his own state.

But at least he's out there fighting for something that polls show tens of millions of American women want.

Bonnie Erbe, a TV host, writes this column for Scripps Howard News Service.

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