Earlier this week, as Gov. Cuomo and Hillary Clinton forcefully demanded passage of New York State’s Reproductive Health Act, I had a flashback. In 2013, the governor unveiled a 10-point Women’s Equality Agenda. Its parts included pay equity, ending housing discrimination for victims of domestic violence, strengthening human trafficking laws and stopping pregnancy discrimination.
At the time, both the Senate (then controlled by Republicans) and the Assembly (overwhelmingly controlled by Democrats) were in agreement on nine parts of the agenda. Republicans refused to move forward on the tenth point — the Reproductive Health Act — threatening to derail the entire package.
As we took our case to the public, our administration came up against strong opposition from the Catholic Church, Republicans and conservatives statewide, and editorial boards — including this one.
I will never forget a conversation I had with the Daily News Editorial Board that spring. They argued round and round with me that the Reproductive Health Act was not “necessary,” but instead was a poison pill and a mere “political distraction.” They called it politics at the expense of real policy and said that the Supreme Court would never overturn Roe v. Wade.
During Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation process to the Supreme Court — Kavanaugh, along with Neil Gorsuch, being one of 25 judges pre-approved by the pro-life far right — I wondered how certain the editorial board feels now.
Over the last decade, many states have moved to restrict women’s ability to make their own reproductive health decisions. Since Kavanaugh’s confirmation, which now gives the anti-choice position the majority on the Supreme Court, states including West Virginia, Ohio and Mississippi have only doubled down on these measures, taking direct aim at Roe.
Now, more than ever, New York must lead.
In 1970, New York led the way by legalizing abortion three years before the Supreme Court’s seminal Roe decision. But as the landscape changed, we failed to keep up. New York’s laws don’t offer the same protections as Roe enshrined, and they regulate abortion in the criminal code, essentially treating women’s reproductive health decisions as crimes.
This week, the governor and the Legislature vowed to pass the Reproductive Health Act within the first 30 days of the legislative session. This essential legislation will take women’s access to abortion out of the criminal code and formally protect the doctors who perform them once and for all.
But we need to take the protection of women’s rights a step further.
The governor has already done more to advance women’s rights than any other leader in the nation, from passing the strongest sexual harassment reforms to banning sextortion to passing legislation to close the pay gap to ensuring access to contraception to fighting sex trafficking to passing the most robust paid family leave program to fighting to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, and so much more.
With the Reproductive Health Act set to finally become law, we should take the next step forward and add a constitutional amendment to our state Constitution to enshrine the principles of Roe v. Wade.
It’s time to settle this once and for all.
As the first ever female secretary to the governor, it’s my duty, but really my honor, to use my position to argue the merits of a woman’s right to make her own reproductive health decisions with anyone who disagrees. But 20 years from now, I don’t want my nieces to have to do the same.