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A New York state of limbo

Friday, March 22, 2013 - Updated: 4:30 PM

Nature may abhor a vacuum, but politics adores it. Gov. Andrew Cuomo's abortion legislation -- or, more precisely, the lack of it -- is an example of how an issue can be overtaken by rhetoric and misinformation before anyone even knows what they're talking about.

That's not so much a criticism of those who have weighed in for or against the governor's plan to update New York's abortion laws as it is of the governor. He has failed to put an actual proposal on the table so that the public can have a fully informed discussion. And this is not about mere process. Cuomo's delay is troubling, even to those who support a woman's right to choose, as we do.

Cuomo in his State of the State message in January called for a "Women's Equality Act" that would include legislation on pay equity, sexual harassment, human trafficking, domestic violence and various forms of discrimination. It also included passage of the Reproductive Health Act concerning abortion.

Cuomo says he simply wants to bring New York's laws concerning abortion into compliance with the 1973 Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court ruling that assured women the right to an abortion. Cuomo also wants to take abortion laws out of the penal code, where they've been since before Roe v. Wade, and put them in the health law, where indeed they properly belong.

The governor says his main goal is to codify New York's abortion laws as they now stand, in the event the U.S. Supreme Court reverses or substantially curtails Roe v. Wade or leaves the matter up to states. In this regard, his intent is right on target.

Since Cuomo's speech, abortion opponents have been picking away at the idea, asserting that it would mean more abortions in New York, allow all sorts of medical practitioners to perform them, force Catholic hospitals to perform abortions, and allow so-called partial birth abortions.

Some of the assertions are either patently false or so unlikely as to be ludicrous. Partial birth abortions, for example, are prohibited under federal law. And to imply that New York would let non-physicians such as dentists and podiatrists perform abortions is absurd and intellectually dishonest. These arguments may stir up outrage but they are not the stuff of serious debate.

The real problem, though, is that Cuomo has yet to show anyone the legislation he talked about so passionately in January. The only Reproductive Health Act that the public has in hand is a bill in the state Senate -- which Cuomo keeps insisting isn't necessarily the one he supports. Very well; then what does he support?

This state of limbo not only stymies meaningful debate on the issue; it raises concerns about whether Cuomo will really deliver a bill that supporters of reproductive choice can truly applaud. That's doubly concerning in light of the governor's stated preference for going around the Legislature's three-day bill "aging" process to push through controversial legislation, a tactic that gives the public no time to review important bills. That wouldn't be unfair only to opponents of abortion rights, but to supporters as well. They should not have to take it on faith that whatever passes will be acceptable just because it carries the title "Reproductive Health Act" and Cuomo's imprimatur.

So stop telling us what's in the legislation and not in the legislation, governor. Show us the bill.

-- The Times Union of Albany

     

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