Wasting little time taking advantage of their full control of state government, Democratic lawmakers last week approved stringent protections for abortion laws and extended financial aid for college to immigrants regardless of status.
With Democrats controlling each branch of state government, the Reproductive Health Act was swiftly approved last Wednesday, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo signing the law into effect that evening. The Senate voted in favor 38-24, while the Assembly approved it by a 92-47 margin, mostly along party lines, to codify Roe v. Wade even if the federal law is struck down by the Supreme Court.
The law maintains that an abortion is legal within the first 24 weeks of the start of a pregnancy or anytime after that if a woman’s life is at risk or if the fetus isn’t viable. Abortions could also now be done by other health professionals, not just physicians.
The proposal was first put forward in 2006 by the Democratic-dominated Assembly, but was blocked at every turn by the Senate, which had been controlled nearly continuously by the GOP for decades until the start of this year.
“In the face of a federal government intent on rolling back Roe v. Wade and women’s reproductive rights, I promised that we would pass this critical legislation within the first 30 days of the new session – and we got it done,” Cuomo said in a statement.
“Today we are taking a giant step forward in the hard-fought battle to ensure a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her own personal health, including the ability to access an abortion. With the signing of this bill, we are sending a clear message that whatever happens in Washington, women in New York will always have the fundamental right to control their own body.”
Republicans decried the measure as overreaching.
“I opposed the Reproductive Health Act and debated against the legislation both on the Assembly floor and in committee,” Assemblyman Kevin Byrne (R-Mahopac) said. “I found the most offensive part of this legislation to be the seemingly generic exemption to permit late-term abortions, which would include partial birth abortion should the 2003 federal ban ever be repealed.”
The state legislature also voted to give undocumented immigrants the ability to receive financial aid and scholarships to state colleges. Cuomo is expected to sign the measure into law soon. The Senate approved the measure 40-20 and the Assembly 90-37.
The law would be named after the late senator Jose Peralta, who died unexpectedly late last year.
“As a key part of our Justice Agenda, we look forward to finally making it law for all New Yorkers this year, for Senator Peralta and the Dreamers,” Cuomo said in a statement.
Republicans pushed back against the measure, including Byrne. He said that while every person deserves the chance at success, the state should prioritize law-abiding citizens and residents before illegal immigrants.
“It is frustrating to see more of New York’s youth being forced to take on mountains of student loan debt because they too want to pursue their own dream of a college degree and a better life,” Byrne said in a statement. “Instead of focusing on funding free college for illegal immigrants, we should be focusing on making it easier for college graduates to pay back their debt without inflating already sky-high tuition costs. We can do this by providing tax relief, increasing job opportunities and allowing legal residents to deduct a portion of the principal on student loan payments, not just the interest.”