News Politics

With ‘Roe’ in Jeopardy, Reproductive Rights Take Center Stage in Nixon-Cuomo Primary

Gaby Del Valle

A spokesperson for Nixon’s campaign told Rewire.News in an email that the executive order is nearly identical to a similar bill the governor signed 18 months prior.

Hours before President Donald Trump announced his U.S. Supreme Court nominee on Monday, Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued regulations expanding access to contraception in the state. The Trump administration, Cuomo said in a statement announcing the order, planned on committing a “federal assault” on reproductive rights; New York would be a bulwark against attacks on abortion. “This is the time to fight back. This is the time to resist,” Cuomo said. “This is the time where every New Yorker has to say, ‘You’re not taking women’s right to reproductive rights away.’”

The regulations are one of several proclamations from Cuomo on reproductive rights that his office has issued over the past week. His campaign released an ad on Monday titled “Fight Back,” which claimed he is “fighting back and leading the way” against any federal attempts to curb reproductive rights. And at rallies on Monday and Tuesday, he called on the state senate to pass the Reproductive Health Act, which would codify Roe v. Wade into state law and shift New York’s abortion laws—which currently criminalize most abortions after 24 weeks—from the criminal code to the Public Health Law.

“I want to say clearly to the senate Republicans, it’s very simple: The bill is on your desk,” Cuomo said during the Monday rally. “You either come back and protect a woman’s right to choose and respect a woman’s reproductive health rights or the voters are going to say to you in November: ‘You’re with Trump? Well you’re fired from the New York State Senate.”

Cuomo’s recent statements and actions won him an endorsement this week from Planned Parenthood Empire State Votes PAC, the organization’s political advocacy arm in New York. Robin Chappelle Golston, the PAC’s chair, said in a statement that Cuomo “has been instrumental in improving New York’s health through increasing contraception access and coverage, improving maternal health to combat maternal mortality, and preserving access to safe and legal abortion.” She went on to say that, “in this critical moment in our nation’s history, the stakes are too high; we need an experienced leader who will fight to protect New Yorkers from federal attacks on our rights and values.”

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But some of Cuomo’s critics on the left—especially his gubernatorial challenger Cynthia Nixon, who held her own reproductive rights rally in Union Square on Tuesday—are far from impressed.

Lauren Hitt, a spokesperson for Nixon’s campaign, told Rewire.News in an email that the regulation is nearly identical to a similar bill the governor signed 18 months prior. “The feel from both reporters and participants on the ground was that the governor just signed the executive order to make headlines on a day Roe v. Wade was in the news, and that, in doing so, he improperly used a government event/taxpayer resources to bolster his campaign,” Hitt said.

Nixon—who recently picked up an endorsement of her own from #VoteProChoice—also blasted Cuomo for not acting sooner. At a campaign event for state senate candidate Jessica Ramos, who is running against an incumbent Democrat in New York’s 13th district, Nixon expressed support for both the Reproductive Health Act and the Comprehensive Contraception Care Act—and claimed despite Cuomo’s verbal support for these bills, the governor never used his political power to urge legislators to act.

“For eight years, Governor Cuomo has claimed that he was fighting for these bills, and he wasn’t,” said Nixon. “Instead, he has prioritized keeping the [Independent Democratic Conference (IDC)] and the Republicans in control, knowing that they will never bring these bills up for a vote. They have made the choice to side with the Republicans again and again, and now our reproductive freedom is at risk with Donald Trump in the White House and Roe v. Wade hanging in the balance.”

Nixon was referring to a rogue coalition of eight Democrats in the state senate who caucus with Republicans. The IDC’s rank-breaking—and that of state Sen. Simcha Felder, a non-IDC Democrat who also votes with Republicans—meant that Republicans controlled the state senate despite not having a majority—and that plenty of bills languished after passing in the assembly, including the Reproductive Health Act, which was introduced in 2011 and has never been brought to a vote in the state senate. Nixon’s campaign told the New York Times that Cuomo didn’t urge a vote on the bill during the most recent legislative session, which ended in June.

But Cuomo’s Press Secretary Dani Lever told the Times that the state senate never had the votes to pass the legislation. “Until this April, the senate hadn’t had the votes to codify Roe v. Wade, in part because there has never been a 100 percent pro-choice Democratic conference until now,” Lever said. “Anyone serious about protecting reproductive rights should join us and the senate Democrats to urge the Republicans to put this bill on the floor now; the stakes are too high for self-serving election year games.”

Cuomo has expressed support for the bill since its introduction, but has been criticized for backing the politicians who have kept it from coming to a floor vote. In 2013, Phillip Anderson, a former new media director for the state senate, told Rewire.News that the bill “languished for ages because the very people that Cuomo worked to keep in power wouldn’t pass it. These are the people who, now, he expects to go and pass it.”

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