Posted at: 06/10/2013 6:35 AM
Updated at: 06/10/2013 1:28 PM
By: Associated Press
Gov. Andrew Cuomo's high-priority proposal to strengthen the existing right for women to have abortions after six months of pregnancy when the fetus is viable outside the womb is energizing not just his liberal Democratic base, but opponents who call it a stealth expansion of abortion.
Cuomo released the bill last week after six months of organizing supporters. It would protect "a woman's right to obtain an abortion when the fetus is not viable, or when necessary to protect a woman's life or health as determined by a licensed physician."
Cuomo says it would simply match state law with federal law, which governs current practice in New York. It is a lower standard than the state's law now, which allows the risky late-term abortions only when the woman's life is danger.
But the bill goes further than it's being portrayed, said Edward Mechmann, an attorney who advises Roman Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and the New York state Catholic Conference.
"If the bill really doesn't expand abortion rights, then what purpose does it serve?" asked Mechmann.
Supporters of abortion rights said the bill is needed because they fear Roe v. Wade will be struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, which would again make the more restrictive state law effective.
It's a disputed point.
"I don't think Roe gets overturned," said William & Mary Law School Professor Neal Devins, who has published studies of the legal issues surrounding the decision. "There's no reason to feel any sense of urgency about this."
Any real threat to Roe v. Wade is five or six years away, he added. Several things would have to happen before the law is seriously challenged, he said: A Republican would have to be elected president and nominate justices who are against abortion and those nominees would have to get an unlikely confirmation by the Senate.
The current political climate may be driving Cuomo's move more than the prospects of Roe v. Wade, Devins said.
"Politics is the art of the possible," he said. "If the governor is willing to push this, it's not about the urgency of the matter, but that it could be politically accomplished now."
Cuomo and women's groups including Family Planning Advocates of New York State deny that the governor's proposal would expand abortion rights.
"It's a core value in New York, so the voters are behind this," said Tracey Brooks, executive director of Family Planning Advocates of New York State. She was part of a rally last week of about 300 supporters from groups working with Cuomo.
She cited a Quinnipiac University Poll last week that found 67 percent of voters support Cuomo's proposal to allow late-term abortions if the woman's health - not her life - is in danger.
Opponents, however, say Cuomo's bill is selective in what federal laws it melds with state law. They say allowing late-term abortions only for health concerns would allow abortions based on a woman's social and economic situation. They also warn it doesn't include a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court case, Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, which gives states more power to restrict abortions, and downgraded abortion from a "fundamental right."
The proposal is part of Cuomo's broader women's agenda, which includes measures to address salary inequity of women and stronger laws against domestic violence and human trafficking. Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos said he supports the other nine elements of the agenda but he won't agree to bring the abortion proposal to the floor for a vote.
Republicans will get support for that position Wednesday when hundreds of opponents of Cuomo's proposal are scheduled to meet with legislators and news media.
"It's a stealth expansion," said the Rev. Jason McGuire of the conservative New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms. "Two weeks to the end of session and we're feeling pretty good. I think people are seeing through what the governor is trying to do."