ALBANY, N.Y. — Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joined New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo Monday in calling for codifying abortion rights in New York state law as a bulwark against any potential court challenges to the landmark Roe v. Wade decision made 46 years ago this month.
The Democrats shared the stage at Barnard College in Manhattan, where members of the state Legislature and women's rights advocates cheered Clinton as she said the struggle for women's equality "continues to be the fight of our lifetime."
Efforts to put federal legal protections of abortion rights into New York law were blocked for years by state Senate Republicans, who lost control of the chamber in the November elections after a decade in power. With Democrats now in control of the Senate by a wide margin, coupled with the party's longtime control of the Assembly and Cuomo starting his third term, codifying Roe v. Wade in state law is expected to occur during the legislative session that starts Wednesday.
Cuomo vowed to get stronger abortion rights into state law this month, while Democrats in the Legislature have said they want to pass legislation by Jan. 22, the 46th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.
Cuomo and the Legislature's top Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, have sought passage of the Reproductive Health Act for years. During an appearance that was essentially a pep rally for an issue that appears to be a slam dunk for Democrats in Albany, Clinton called expanding women's rights "the great unfinished business of the 21st century."
"Our right to make the most deeply personal decision is facing the most significant threat in recent memory," she said, a reference to Republican President Donald Trump's support of overturning Roe v. Wade and the confirmation last year of Trump nominee Brett Kavanaugh to the nation's highest court.
New York made abortions legal in 1970, but the law didn't give women the same rights guaranteed under Roe v. Wade three years later. New York Democrats say the state law needs to be updated by removing abortion from the penal code and placing it under state law, thereby protecting women's access to abortions should Roe v. Wade be overturned or altered on the federal level.
Senate Republicans contended a bill backed by Cuomo would expand access to abortions later in pregnancy, and they managed to stymie the legislation until Democrats picked up eight seats in the recent election to take control of the 63-seat chamber.
Cuomo, considered a possible candidate for president in 2020, said protecting abortion rights was a key component of his progressive agenda in response to Trump administration policies.
"We have led the way on women's rights like no other state, period," he said.