Although most states are tightening their laws on abortion, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo stepped in a different direction Tuesday, introducing legislation to bring his state's abortion law more in line with federal law.
Opponents are outraged by Mr. Cuomo's move, saying his legislation expands abortion rights in what is already a high-abortion state.
But Mr. Cuomo, surrounded by women leaders, repeatedly told reporters that his proposal simply aligns New York with "the law of the land." Those who say otherwise "are fear-mongering," Mr. Cuomo said.
The abortion provision is part of a 10-point Women's Equality Act that contains legislation on women's housing, safety and workplace issues.
All 10 provisions are expected to be passed together, Mr. Cuomo said.
Lawmakers who balk at passing the abortion provision will simply be revealing their views to voters and "the 10 million women in New York," he said. "You are pro-choice or you are not pro-choice."
The New York legislative session ends June 20.
Democrats run the state assembly, but Democrats and Republicans share control of the state Senate, so the fate of the legislation is unknown.
Pro-life groups and the Catholic Church said the abortion proposal expands New York's abortion rights because current law disallows abortions after 24 weeks gestation except when the mother's life is in danger. Under the proposed language — which matches federal language — such late-term abortions would be permitted if the mother's life or health is in danger. Health of the mother includes emotional health.
Pushing such language is "political suicide" for Mr. Cuomo, Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, said Monday.
Americans are becoming more pro-life and Mr. Cuomo is "going the other way," Mr. Donohue said.
The governor's women allies, however, praised him.
Having the federal abortion language enacted in New York "could not be more timely or more necessary," said Kathryn Kolbert, a scholar and lawyer who has argued abortion cases at the Supreme Court. Powerful forces are at work "seeking to gut, if not overturn" the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, she said.
The proposed abortion language would protect reproductive choice "once and for all" in New York, said Andrea Miller, president of NARAL Pro-Choice New York.
According to Guttmacher Institute data for 2008, about 33 percent of 469,000 New York pregnancies ended in abortion. In comparison, around 18 percent of all U.S. pregnancies end in abortion, the National Center for Health Statistics said in a 2012 report.
Late-term abortions have become a national issue since the trial of Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell, who was found guilty of murdering three newborns in his filthy clinic.
Pro-choice groups denounced Gosnell as an "outlier" in the industry, but pro-life organizations said illegal late-term abortions and infanticides are common occurrences.
On Wednesday, pro-life groups including the Susan B. Anthony List are planning to launch a "Stop the Gosnells" coalition to encourage investigations into late-term abortions and enactment of tougher laws against them.
A report issued Tuesday by the Pew Research Center said most states are moving toward laws that regulate abortion: Ten states require abortion providers to perform an ultrasound and share that information with a woman prior to her abortion. Several states have laws forbidding abortions after 20 weeks gestation; in North Dakota, most abortions are forbidden as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detected, which could be six weeks gestation. Lawsuits are underway or expected against some of these laws.
Separately, the House Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution and civil justice passed a bill Tuesday that would block most abortions after 20 weeks gestation in the District.
Supporters of the bill say fetuses are able to feel pain by that age, and abortion is an inhumane act. Opponents say legislation limiting abortions before 24 weeks is unconstitutional and "fetal pain" has not been proven.
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