ALBANY — New York's Senate Republicans who can block legislation are slamming Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposal to expand abortion rights as an extreme measure from the radical left.
"I think this is not a well-thought-out piece of legislation," said Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos of Nassau County. "The bottom line is, in New York state, abortion is legal, it's safe."
Cuomo hasn't yet issued his bill with all the details of his proposal, but he calls for ending what he calls discrimination and government interference against women in making choices about their bodies and would move abortion into health law, out of criminal statutes. The proposal has strong support in the Assembly's Democratic majority.
"I don't understand what the issue is," Skelos said two weeks after Cuomo made the proposal a rousing part of his State of the State speech. "In New York state, you have Medicaid spending on abortion, there is no parental consent, there is no parental notification, you can pretty much have an abortion any time you want ... I think it's really a non-issue."
Cuomo packaged the abortion rights measure in a women's rights package that included proposals to assure equal pay, workplace rights, and bills combating abuse against women. At this point, Cuomo has tied all the measures together, requiring the Legislature to approve all or none of the proposals.
He repeated his support for greater abortion protections three times in his State of the State speech, shouting and jabbing his finger to the cheering audience: "Because it's her body, it's her choice!"
After Skelos' comments, Cuomo appeared to downplay the magnitude of his proposal, which he had likened during his earlier speech to his landmark measure in 2011 that legalized same-sex marriage.
"State law needs to be updated so that it is consistent with federal standards and once and for all makes a woman's right to choose unassailable in New York state," said Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi. "This is not an expansion of abortion rights. It's a codification of existing federal law. Any suggestion to the contrary is not only baseless, but a distortion of the facts."
Skelos made his first extensive comments on Cuomo's proposal a day after the state Conservative Party issued some stern direction to Republican senators. Most need Conservative support in the state dominated by Democratic voters. A Conservative Party backlash last fall against three Republicans who voted to legalize gay marriage in 2011 cost Republicans sole control of the Senate this year.
Advocates may have to depend entirely on Democrats, who are divided in the Senate. The five-member Independent Democratic conference shares majority control in a coalition with Republicans. Another 27 are in the traditional Democratic conference, but at least two of them have voted against expanding abortion rights in the past. Another Democrat sits and vote with the Republicans.
That leaves no easy route for approval of Cuomo's abortion proposal.
"The coalition government is not to turn Republicans into Democrats," said Sen. Jeffrey Klein who leads the Independent Democratic Conference. "This is a tough issue and I believe it's become a very core Democratic issue ... we really need to figure out a way to get this done."
The Senate coalition's power sharing agreement requires Klein and Skelos to agree to send a bill to the floor for a vote, with either leader holding a veto. But Klein said that if 32 Democrats agree to vote for the measure, he will get it to the floor.
"This should not be a partisan issue, but about protecting the equality and health of women," said Mike Murphy, spokesman for the traditional Democratic conference. "We will stand behind the governor's Women's Equality Act that includes legislation that would increase pay equity, stop discrimination as well as protect women's reproductive rights."