Supporters of the proposed Reproductive Health Act 40th gathered in Chappaqua last Friday with Senate District candidate Peter Harckham urging the importance of swinging the Senate to the Democrats to pass the legislation.
Harckham was joined by Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul and other Democratic women officeholders at the Chappaqua train station the day after dramatic Senate Judiciary Committee testimony from U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, one of the women who accused him of sexual assault.
Harckham said passage of the Reproductive Health Act in New York is essential because it would codify Roe v. Wade in the event the landmark 1973 decision is overturned by the Supreme Court or portions of the ruling are weakened. Although New York State legalized abortion in 1970, it remains in the penal code instead of the health code, which could make it easier to curtail or deny abortions, he said.
The Democratic-controlled Assembly has approved the legislation multiple times but Senate Republican leaders have repeatedly thwarted it from reaching the floor for a vote, giving cover to their legislators, including 40th state Senate District incumbent Terrence Murphy, Harckham’s opponent next month, supporters argued.
The Murphy-Harckham match up is seen as a key race in the Democrats’ quest to wrest control of the Senate.
“If it’s not this Judge Kavanaugh it will be the next Judge Kavanaugh,” Harckham said. “Who is to protect our daughters, our wives, our sisters, our partners? Will it be Sen. Terrence Murphy? I don’t think so.”
Hochul pledged that if the Democrats win the majority in the state Senate they would pass the Reproductive Health Act in the first 30 days of 2019. Other legislation, including passage of the Child Victims Act, would follow, she said.
“We have strongly believed for a long time that we need to protect the women of this state against the whims of Washington because we have said for years, you never know when the Supreme Court flips, Congress flips, when the presidency flips,” Hochul said. “Ladies and gentlemen, they have all flipped and they have flipped on their heads. It’s a very topsy-turvy time right now, an unsettling time. It’s a very somber time if you’re a woman in this country.”
In addition to abortion rights, contraception rights could also be in jeopardy of being hollowed out, said Catherine Lederer-Plaskett, president and chair of the Westchester Coalition for Legal Abortion.
She said that the legislation approved in 1970 during Republican Gov. Nelson Rockefeller’s administration and with both houses of the legislature controlled by the GOP, has not been updated to reflect changing times.
“We have not moved women’s health into the 21st century and we must do that,” Lederer-Plaskett said. “The only way we can do that is by making the majority of the Senate a Democratic majority. We are working hard to do that but without every single person out there voting to make the Senate majority Democrat, we will not get the Reproductive Health Act.”
After reaching out to Murphy last week, his campaign released a prepared statement calling Harckham’s press conference “a desperate attempt by my opponent to distract voters from the facts.”
Murphy’s statement pointed to his sponsorship of the women’s equality agenda, the state’s new sexual harassment law and new legislation to protect victims of rape and domestic violence as evidence that he has supported issues important to women.
“It’s easy to score a headline, but it is harder to actually deliver, and for (the) past four years I’m proud of all I have done for the people of the 40th Senate District,” Murphy’s statement read.
New Castle Councilwoman Ivy Pool said last week’s events in Washington makes the races for state legislature this year, including the Harckham-Murphy battle, critical battles.
“It’s been a stunning reminder that women’s equality is not inevitable and that we need elected officials at every level of government who see us, who hear us and who believe us when we tell stories of our own kind of experience,” Pool said.