By Jessica Bakeman, Albany Bureau
ALBANY, NY-- Gov. Andrew Cuomo continued his push for a legislative agenda fighting discrimination against women, which includes a controversial measure that would strengthen New York's abortion laws.
At the Eleanor Roosevelt Legacy Committee breakfast in Manhattan, Cuomo spoke of his mother, former first lady of New York, who set an example as a strong, outspoken woman, he said. He lamented that his three daughters would have fewer opportunities than their male peers.
"Because they happen to be women, they have a different set of expectations and a different outlook than a man, and that is a cruel tragedy," Cuomo said during his speech. "We have to stop this subtle bias that is a man's world, and we have to stop it by admitting it and being willing to stand up and say it: Yes, there's discrimination against women."
Cuomo presented in his State of the State address a 10-point "Women's Equality Act," which also includes measures to fight against domestic violence, human trafficking and pay inequity as well as housing, lending and pregnancy discrimination.
At the event Monday, after touting New York's past leadership in progressive social movements, he called the package "the most comprehensive women's equality agenda that has ever been done."
"With all our sophistication, with all our education, with all our wealth, in the greatest city and the greatest state on the planet, we still discriminate against women," Cuomo said. "It is intolerable."
A coalition of women's groups and other supporters of the agenda have been working with Cuomo to craft the legislation, paying particular attention to the abortion measure.
Cuomo has argued it will simply codify federal abortion rights into state law, while opponents have likened the legislation to an "abortion expansion plan" in the state. He hasn't released his proposal yet, but conservatives and the Catholic Church staunchly oppose the Reproductive Health Act, a similar bill that's been floated in recent years.
Cuomo has said recently he has not released his abortion bill because he has not garnered enough bipartisan support for the legislation to pass the state Senate. The Senate GOP conference plans to block the bill, and some pro-life Democrats oppose it, too.
Some lawmakers blame the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference for partnering with Senate Republicans in a majority coalition, since GOP Leader Dean Skelos, R-Nassau County, appears unwilling to bring an abortion bill to the floor for a vote. IDC members, who are pro-choice, argue that it doesn't matter, because there aren't enough votes to pass the bill, anyway.
"These comments speak to the IDC's own denial over the consequences of their decision to give control of the legislative agenda to an anti-choice Republican minority," Sen. Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan, said in a statement Friday. "If the bill goes to the floor - which it certainly would with a Democratic majority setting the agenda - I have confidence that it will gain enough cross-party support to pass."
Women's groups have been holding news conferences and rallies around the state to garner support, while engaging in an advertising war with pro-life groups, like the Chiaroscuro Foundation and Feminists Choosing Life of New York.
Pro-life groups have criticized Cuomo for packaging the women's rights bills together with the abortion measure, which is controversial and faces a tough battle in the Legislature. Critics accuse him of "holding hostage" the other pieces to his abortion agenda, but he and supporters have refused to separate them, arguing the importance of guaranteeing women's abortion rights.
In a news release Monday, the Chiaroscuro Foundation questioned whether Cuomo is committed to protecting women.
The group urged Cuomo to include in his abortion measure restrictions against late-term abortion based on the sex of the fetus.
"Gender selection abortions are rampant in many Asian nations; far less so here. But among immigrant populations in America this is a quickly growing concern," spokeswoman Meg McDonnell said in a statement. "This all too often involves women being bullied into the abortion by a husband or boyfriend. If Governor Cuomo truly wants to burnish his feminist credentials, he'd do something to protect these women and girls."