New York GOP Lawmakers Quash Contraception, Abortion Protections—For Now

“I think this was a really strong indicator that women are not safe here in regards to attacks on the federal level, and that we still have a long way to go."

[Photo: John Flanagan]
Chaos continued this week when GOP leaders like Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-Suffolk) refused to let a sponsor of the bill speak on the floor. NYSenate / YouTube

New York Republicans have once again stymied the advance of reproductive protections after a stalemate in the state senate this week. With the legislative session slated to end June 20, advocates say this is a clear sign the Republican majority is not interested in advancing reproductive health care with abortion protections and contraceptive coverage.

“What this means is we have to keep fighting and keep demanding that there is a real vote on these bills. We know that the support of the community is there and we just need the legislators to actually listen to the people of New York and take a vote on them,” said Danielle Castaldi-Micca, director of political and government affairs at the National Institute for Reproductive Health, which has long fought for reproductive rights in New York State. 

New York’s state law on abortion was written in 1970, three years before the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision. But the state law falls short of Roe protections, meaning New Yorkers would have no state statutory protection if Roe is overturned, a real threat in the Trump regime.

The Reproductive Health Act (RHA) or S 2796, attempts to fix the problem and was passed by the Democratic-majority assembly. It repeals criminal abortion statutes, permits abortion after 24 weeks when the pregnant person’s health is at risk or when the fetus is not viable, and expands current law so that nurse practitioners and physicians’ assistants can provide abortion services.

This has been a long-standing battle in the state, advocates told Rewire.News. The RHA was drafted four years ago; before that, there was the Women’s Equality Act and other prior iterations.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) supported incorporating the RHA’s changes into state law in his budget proposal this year, but it’s been a hard push in a state where Republicans decide what bills get to be voted on. Procedural glitches made the fight tougher this week for both the RHA and the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act as the senate ground to halt, the New York Daily News reported.

Cuomo last year incorporated Obamacare’s contraceptive coverage mandate into state law, requiring all New York health insurance policies cover contraception without co-pays, and allowing people to secure a 12-month supply at one time. This is especially important now that the Trump administration has allowed employers to deny birth control coverage under religious or moral objections. Unless state law dictates otherwise, contraceptive coverage is now at the discretion of employers.

The Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act (S 3668) would broaden contraceptive coverage to include all forms of FDA-approved contraception (including vasectomies), authorizes pharmacists to dispense emergency contraception, and add coverage for contraceptive education and counseling.

Last year the state senate failed to pass both bills, which died in committee. The bills passed the assembly in March.

Senate Democrats last week once again tried to bring the RHA and the CCCA to the floor for a vote as amendments. With one GOP member out on military duty, Democrats were hoping for a 31-31 tie in which Lt. Gov Kathy Hochul (D) would cast the deciding vote. However, the Republican leadership laid all the bills aside, shutting down the session.

Chaos continued this week when GOP leaders like Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-Suffolk) refused to let a sponsor of the bill, Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan), speak on the floor. They called a Rules Committee meeting and ended the session without action.

“The Republican Senate leadership has once again blocked consideration of the Reproductive Health Act and the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act, and on Tuesday they tried to stop me from speaking on the RHA at all,” Sen. Krueger said in a statement. “Both these bills are supported by the governor and have passed the Assembly.  The Senate Republicans should stop using procedural maneuvers to block these bills which would ensure that individuals would have control of their own reproductive health decisions.”

The session opened Wednesday without the lieutenant governor presiding. Senate Democrats brought up both hostile amendments on the bills, which failed with only 31 votes.

Advocates say this shows New Yorkers can’t rely on the GOP to stand up for access to contraception and safe, legal abortion care.

“I think this was a really strong indicator that women are not safe here in regards to attacks on the federal level, and that we still have a long way to go,” Robin Chappelle Golston, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts, told Rewire.News. “Obviously legislation as simple as making access to contraception widely available was too much for the majority of the Senate. I think that tells people a lot. I think that should be of great concern to folks. And I think the best answer for that is that people need to go out and vote this fall.”