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LI GOP state senators must help protect women’s rights

View of the New York State Capitol from

View of the New York State Capitol from the Empire State Plaza on Jan. 15, 2018. Credit: Newsday / Stefanie Dazio

In 1970, New York Republican Assemb. Constance Cook engineered a historic victory for women’s rights. Cook, who represented parts of the Southern Tier, was already a pioneer as one of only four women in the Assembly that year. Facing widespread opposition from her own party, she drafted and successfully passed the most progressive reproductive rights law in the country legalizing abortion and taking New York out of the dark ages.

Cook’s courageous act lit a flame that spread across the country. New York’s laws paved the way for the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade case that transformed the lives of millions of women in America who today have access to reproductive care.

But while the national landscape shifted, New York’s laws didn’t keep pace. In fact, New York State law doesn’t offer the same protections as Roe v. Wade and abortion is still part of the state’s criminal code, deterring doctors in this state from providing care.

In recent years we have worked together to urgently update our legislation and pass a law that mirrors Roe v. Wade. In New York, everyone should have control over their own health and bodies and we fear that New Yorkers might not always be able to rely on the federal government to uphold our values and protect our rights.

Every year, the State Assembly has passed legislation to align our laws with protections guaranteed by Roe v. Wade. And every year, Republicans in the State Senate have shamefully refused to take up the bill to protect women’s rights.

Today our greatest fears are coming true. This federal administration has been working to erode women’s rights. Under President Donald Trump, the administration has attacked Planned Parenthood and taken action to deny women contraceptive coverage and health services. The administration reshaped Title X, the federal grant program for affordable birth control, to focus on abstinence education instead. And it imposed a draconian gag rule to prevent health care providers across the country from referring their patients for safe, legal abortion.

And now Trump has nominated an extreme conservative judge to the Supreme Court, and he has done so with the stated goal of overturning Roe v. Wade and rolling back advancements in reproductive health care. After decades of progress, Trump wants to use the Supreme Court as a political arm of the presidency to take this nation back to a time before women had the legal protection to control their bodies. And unless we the people stand up and speak out, he will succeed.

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh represents a dire threat to New Yorkers. It’s time Republicans in the State Senate put aside their politics and their excuses and join us to protect the rights of women in our state.

Every New Yorker has a right to know where each member of the State Legislature stands when it comes to protecting a woman’s right to control her own reproductive health decisions. And so, today we are calling on the State Senate Republicans to return to Albany immediately to hold a vote to codify Roe v. Wade into state law and take abortion out of our criminal code once and for all.

The leadership of the State Senate resides on Long Island, where the protections offered by Roe V. Wade are overwhelmingly supported. So how, then, can the state senators living here pretend to be representing the will of their constituents and at the same time refuse to say where they stand on this vitally important issue.

So what is it, Sens. John Flanagan, Ken LaValle, Kemp Hannon, Phil Boyle, Carl Marcellino, Tom Croci, and Elaine Phillips?

We urge State Senate Republicans, led by Majority Leader Flanagan, to show the same backbone that Assemb. Constance Cook, a member of their own party, showed nearly 50 years ago and do the right thing. Protecting women’s health should not be politicized; it’s a matter of common decency, to benefit the common good.

New York State has acted to protect access to reproductive health services, including requiring health insurers to cover contraceptive drugs and devices and all medically-necessary abortion services without co-pays, coinsurance, or deductibles. But we cannot rest until protections for women are fully enshrined in state law.

New York launched the modern women’s rights movement 170 years ago this month at Seneca Falls. Since then, we have always been at the forefront of the fight for women’s rights and women’s equality. But the fight is far from over. Today more than ever we must defend the progress we have made, and guard against the assault on women that is coming.

Andrew M. Cuomo is governor of New York, and Andrea Stewart-Cousins is the State Senate’s Democratic Leader.