ALBANY - An impassioned abortion debate was ignited Thursday when Democrats in one of the nation's strongest abortion rights states tried to run counter to a national trend of scaling back some provisions in Roe v. Wade.
Supporters led by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo fear the U.S. Supreme Court may overturn the landmark 1973 abortion rights decision. They devoted six contentious months to revising a more restrictive 1970 state law in the event the less restrictive federal law now guiding practice is struck down. Cuomo tied the measure to nine far more popular measures to combat discrimination against women in the workplace and to strengthen human trafficking laws.
Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, a Manhattan Democrat, said she's old enough to remember when abortion wasn't legal and women died from illegal abortions, sometimes performed with wire hangers.
"You can't check your uterus at the door," Glick said.
As abortion rights protesters continued a string of daily demonstrations in the Capitol, Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, an Ithaca Democrat, said, "If you do not control your own body, you are not a free person."
Nationally, courts and several states have added some restrictions to late-term abortions since Roe v. Wade, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The federal law legalizes abortion after six months of pregnancy until a fetus is viable outside the womb unless the woman's health is threatened. The older New York law allows the risky late-term abortion only if the woman's life is in danger.
Opponents said the abortion bill is unnecessary or a "stealth" expansion of abortion. They were angry they were forced to accept the abortion provision or vote down the other nine more popular items included in the 10-point bill. Those provisions include equal pay for equal work and better protection for domestic violence victims.
"There are 10 critical issues here," said Assemblywoman Jane Corwin, an Erie County Republican. "I am pro-choice ... but instead of taking those nine pieces and moving them forward to make a real difference, we are holding hostage nine very important measures."
Assemblywoman Annie Rabbitt, a Hudson Valley Republican, said she's "in a man's world here each and every day."
"But to think you can put that 10th issue on a bill that is so critical to the women of this state, it is a disgrace," she said.
The Assembly passed the package of 10 women's rights bills, including the abortion measure, 97-47.
That bill was delivered to the Senate for its necessary approval but is expected to be rejected.
The Republicans who share control of the Senate majority insist they won't allow the bill to the floor because of the abortion measure. Instead, the Senate Republicans intend to vote today to accept the other nine measures in separate bills, which would still be a major women's rights initiative.
Senate Democrats, however, could try to force the abortion bill to the floor. Although there are enough Democrats in the Senate to pass the bill, the divisive group of Democrats likely would still need some Republicans to pass the measure. That's unlikely in the disciplined Republican conference opposed to the bill.
The Senate would then send the bills it approves to the Assembly, which could give them final legislative approval.
The 2013 legislative session is scheduled to end today.