Reproductive health is on the minds of many candidates running for office this year, and it could become a topic of conversation among lawmakers in Albany in the coming months.
The state Legislature will soon debate the Reproductive Health Act. Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, a Willsboro Republican who supports the bill, told the Enterprise the bill aims to codify a woman's right to contraception and abortion.
"It says that abortion is legal and that it should be available to women in need," she said.
Sayward is a co-chair of the bipartisan Legislative Caucus on Reproductive Rights. She said the bill was live in the Legislature last year but never passed the Senate.
She said the bill is still being looked at this year.
"The bipartisan committee thinks that what's going on in all of these states around us and how women's rights are being eroded, that it's important to codify the law in New York state," she said. "This is what we believe."
Assemblywoman Janet Duprey, R-Peru, said might vote in favor of the legislation. She said in past years, she has voted against it, but this year's version of the bill has addressed her concerns. Duprey said the bill "tightens up requirements" for abortion providers and shores up language about viability determinations for fetuses.
"I'm going to listen to the debate," she said. "I'm leaning towards supporting it, but I'm not committed in any way to a final vote."
State Sen. Betty Little was blunt when asked about the Reproductive Health Act.
"I don't think it's necessary, and I hope it doesn't get to the floor," she said.
Little said she does not support abortion and would vote against the bill if it came before the Senate. But she said she has, in the past, supported things like contraception and educational programs related to women's health.
Little didn't discuss the rhetoric about women's health that's dominated mainstream politics in recent months. But Sayward and Duprey did.
"It's offensive," Duprey said.
Duprey said she was particularly offended by a panel of witnesses that testified about women's health before the U.S. House of Representatives in February. The panel did not include any women.
"It was a panel of grey-haired men telling women what they should and shouldn't do," Duprey said. "I have a daughter and three granddaughters, a daughter-in-law. They're perfectly capable, as I always felt I was, of determining what is the right actions for my personal health care.
"It's a battle we fought for years: to be able to have equal rights. Men aren't going before a panel to determine whether or not they should have a vasectomy or take Viagra - nor should they. It should be a personal choice."
Duprey said she's been accused of being "pro-abortion." She said that's not the case.
"I am pro-women's rights," Duprey said. "And a woman should have a choice. I don't understand why someone would choose to have an abortion - I can't imagine it. But if a woman has made that decision, I'm sure no woman does that lightly, and I don't have any right to tell her what she should and shouldn't do."
Sayward said laws in states like Texas that require women to undergo invasive medical procedures before getting an abortion take the country back decades. She said she hopes women will head to the polls in November and choose candidates that won't try to take away reproductive rights.
"I think it's all about control," Sayward said. "I fought this fight in the '70s - I shouldn't have to fight it again."
Sayward said the bill isn't likely to pass in the Senate because it's an election year. But she hopes the increased attention on women's health will lead to a productive dialogue.