Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), GOP nominee in the New York...

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), GOP nominee in the New York gubernatorial race. Credit: Reece T. Williams

ALBANY — Election-year dynamics in New York could change radically if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide, experts said Tuesday.

Democrats, who have been on the defensive about issues such as crime and the economy, could have a “wedge issue” that breaks in their favor in New York and might upend the forecast of a big Republican year, they said.

Republicans seeking statewide office might no longer be able to shrug off abortion as a federal issue, as they have sought to do in the past several campaigns for governor.

Lisa Parshall, a political scientist at Daemen University in suburban Buffalo, said a decision overturning Roe v. Wade could shift attention away from Albany-centered controversies and “remind voters what’s at stake with partisan control.”

Doug Muzzio, a political scientist at Baruch College in Manhattan, said the issue has “got to energize Democratic voters and should increase Democratic turnout” in November.

“It should make a difference with what had been a lethargic Democratic base and could even motivate some Republican women,” Muzzio told Newsday.

On Tuesday, Chief Justice John G. Roberts confirmed the authenticity of a leaked draft ruling overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, but stressed it was not a final decision.

Long Islanders on Tuesday reacted to the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion that showed the court could be poised to overturn the longstanding Roe v. Wade abortion ruling. Newsday TV’s Cecilia Dowd reports. Credit: Newsday/Howard Schnapp; AP; Photo Credit: AP / Jose Luis Magana; TNS / Kent Nishimura

Abortion rights have strong support in New York.

In January 2019, when a newly-enshrined Democratic majority in the state Senate was set to vote on a bill codifying Roe v. Wade rights in state law, 63% of New York voters said they approved compared with 23% who were opposed, according to a Siena College poll.

Among Republicans, 48% approved and 36% were opposed.

As an election issue, abortion rights have been so popular that New York Democrats have touted them even when no legislation or court decision was at stake — such as in 2014, when then-Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo made the issue the main topic of his campaign bus tour across the state.

So it was no surprise that Democrats on Tuesday immediately highlighted recent remarks by Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), front-runner in the GOP primary for governor, signaling he might select a “anti-abortion” state health commissioner if elected.

NY1 last week reported Zeldin, an outspoken abortion opponent, made the remarks in a “town hall” meeting with an anti-abortion group.

Zeldin, who is in a four-way GOP primary, issued a statement Tuesday condemning the leak of the Supreme Court draft opinion, but not addressing the substance of the potential ruling.

Nick Langworthy, Republican State Committee chairman, said Democrats would try to use Roe v. Wade to “distract” voters.

“This is all an attempt to distract from their disastrous record on the economy and crime, which are the issues that New Yorkers care about most and that is the agenda we are focused on,” Langworthy said.

But Jay Jacobs, state and Nassau County Democratic chairman, said the possible overturn of Roe v. Wade will focus voters and drive turnout.

“I think that ‘Republican year’ just went out the window,” Jacobs told Newsday.

“I think voters, not just in New York but throughout the country, will be outraged … by this change,” Jacobs said. “And I think it’s one thing to be afraid of it and there’s another thing to now have to live with the reality.”

Leaders of the Democrat-controlled State Legislature promised quick action on several bills related to abortion rights.

One would shield from prosecution New York abortion providers who serve women from other states, Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove) said.

Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, said Tuesday: "My promise is that here in the State of New York, we will not stand idly by." 

She continued: "I refuse to go backwards."

Hochul said the state Health Department was reviewing regulations in an effort to ensure availability of telemedicine abortion services, guidance for providers and information for patients about their rights to an abortion.

Grant Reeher, a Syracuse University political scientist, called discussion of the prospect of an overturn of Roe v. Wade, “a way to change the topic of the conversation away from crime, COVID and the economy.”

But Reeher said he wasn't convinced the issue “takes the winds out of the sails of Republicans in the state.”

Parhsall differed, saying it could benefit Democratic congressional and statewide candidates — particularly Hochul, the only woman in the gubernatorial race.

It could help Hochul, who is in a three-way Democratic primary, shake off criticism about the arrest of her ex-lieutenant governor and complaints about “one-party rule” in Albany, Parshall said.

“This is a development that could put Kathy Hochul back in a more secure position,” Parshall said.

With Michael Gormley

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