By Jessica Bakeman, Albany Bureau
ALBANY -- More than 400 people swathed in pink rallied for women's rights near the Capitol on Monday, with state leaders speaking in support of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's legislative package addressing gender equality.
The 10-point plan Cuomo unveiled during his State of the State last week centers around the Reproductive Health Act, a bill that would cofidy women's abortion rights. The package, dubbed the Women's Equality Act, also includes measures to ensure equal pay, as well as strengthen laws against human trafficking and employment, housing and lending discrimination.
"During the 2012 elections, voters in New York and across the nation were loud and clear about the value they place on comprehensive reproductive health care access," M. Tracey Brooks, CEO of Family Planning Advocates of New York, said Monday. "Now is the time for New York state lawmakers to answer that call and stand strong for the women of New York by passing the Women's Equality Act."
Cuomo said during his address that it would no longer be "a man's world" in New York.
"We are going to pass this Women's Equality Act. We are going to change the lives for my daughters and your daughters and your sisters and your nieces and your wife and your significant other and every person in this room," Cuomo said. "And we're going to do it this year."
The state's Democratic leaders spoke to the crowd of mostly women Monday, pledging this session to pass the Reproductive Health Act, which has stalled in previous years. The officials included Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver of Manhattan, Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeffrey Klein of the Bronx, Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins of Yonkers and other lawmakers.
Duffy spoke of Susan B. Anthony, the renowned women's rights activist and fellow Rochester-native, saying that she was the first woman to vote in the country in 1872.
"One-hundred and forty-one years later in this state, we are still talking about issues of equality for women," Duffy said. "We should not be doing that. This should be something that is done already.
"We want New York state to be, by far, the best state for women," he continued.
Klein said abortion is a defining issue for Democrats -- if you're not pro-choice, you're not a Democrat.
"I get tired every year of having to rely on Republicans to pass this bill," Klein said, addressing the abortion-rights measure. "I think it's important that we elect more Democrats to the state Senate so we can finally pass the Reproductive Health Act."
Stewart-Cousins said the governor's commitment to the women's agenda builds her confidence that the Reproductive Health Act "has a very good chance of passing."
"I want to believe that in 2013, with people being aware of the disparity in many instances between men and women, that they would want to rectify those disparities," she said.
Church groups oppose the abortion bill, and last week the state Catholic Conference accused Cuomo of packaging it with other women's rights measures in order to "fool" legislators and make it harder to oppose.
In a memorandum of opposition Monday, the conference urged lawmakers to reject the bill.
"Not only does the bill defy public opinion, but it also defies common sense," the memo said. "The reality is that no woman is without ample opportunity for an abortion in New York state. Rather than voting on a bill that will increase the tragedy of abortion, we urge policy makers to look at constructive ways to reduce abortion and truly make abortion 'rare.'"