8/9/14

Teachout: Abortion Rights Central to Women's Equality

In a recent Albany Times-Union editorial, progressive activist and Fordham Law professor Zephyr Teachout, challenging Gov. Andrew Cuomo to a Democratic Primary in September, argued that the State Legislature's failure to pass the "uncontroversial" Women's Equality Act comes down to abortion.

While passing the Women's Equality Act would better protect New York's women by strengthening state laws against sexual harassment, domestic violence and salary discrimination, Teachout said, the 10th point in its 10-point plan: bringing state abortion rights in line with the federal standard of Roe v Wade, has paralyzed the State Senate. Nevermind that a 60% majority of New York voters support all 10 points of the bill, the conservative Republicans and rogue Democrats in the ruling Senate coalition are blocking its passage, she said.

This failure is a betrayal of both New York State and New York women, at the forefront of the American women's rights movement for 200 years, said Teachout. When Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the suffragist pioneers held their first convention in Seneca Falls in 1848, it vaulted women's rights onto the national political stage; and when New York State legalized abortion in 1970, three years before Roe v Wade, it paved the way for a national right to abortion, she said. New York's historic role as a women's rights stalwart has made it a haven for women from states where their reproductive rights are under assault, Teachout said.

Today, she said, New York's traditional role as a women's rights defender matters more than ever, as the religious right goes after abortion rights in the deep south -- in Louisiana, with just two abortion clinics left; Texas, which will have just 6 abortion clinics left by this fall; in Alabama, Mississippi, and other states where women's abortion access has been dramatically cut back.

And the state-level attack on abortion rights comes just as the U.S. Supreme Court has green-lighted the override of federal law by private entities, making state law women's last resort, Teachout said. In the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision in June, for example, corporations got the go-ahead to ignore the "Obamacare" federal birth control mandate on "religious" grounds, she said.  And no matter how Hobby Lobby plays out in the future, it's an invitation to employers and private interests to circumvent women's federally-protected reproductive rights, she said.

While Cuomo claims to champion the full 10-point plan in the Women's Equality Act, said Teachout, his actions tell another story: neither his backing of the Republican coalition running the State Senate nor his proposal to create a new "Women's Equality Party" are consistent with supporting the Women's Equality Act, she said. 

A women's rights activist since 1989, Teachout said she was "deeply committed" to protecting womens' rights and making sure that New York State remains a haven for women from states where abortion rights are under siege.

The editorial from the Albany Times-Union.

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