County Executive Robert Astorino and the Democratic controlled Board of Legislators are at it again over a bill that would grant women safe access at reproductive health clinics.
The bill was passed by the Board of Legislators 10-7, along party lines, and would guarantee anyone who seeks to enter a reproductive health clinic in Westchester the ability to safely access the entrance even from the end of a long driveway or a nearby parking lot.
Supporters say that this fills the gap between federal and state legislation already in place, and guarantees that clinic personnel can summon the police and file a complaint on behalf of patients being physically intimidated and having trouble getting through a crowd or demonstration.
Astorino vetoed the bill saying that it is legally flawed and unnecessary, and could open the county to costly lawsuits.
“The legislation is unnecessary, unfair and unconstitutional on its face, all of which put the public at risk,” said Astorino. “My veto is a principled attempt to spare our residents of these harmful consequences.”
Astorino said that federal and state bills already restrict protesters outside clinics and that it violates First Amendment rights with the potential to chill freedom of speech and assembly.
“The law subjects law-abiding citizens to frivolous lawsuits and exposes them to unreimbursable legal fees,” Astorino said. “The bill itself is legally flawed and vague.”
Twelve votes would be needed to override Astorino’s veto, which would require two Republicans to change their votes.
Tom Staudter, a spokesman for the Democratic legislators, said that the bill had been worked on for more than two years and had been vetted by many lawyers.
“It is not a violation of First Amendment rights,” Staudter said. “Safe access to reproductive health care is right for Westchester. We are hopeful some of the Republican legislators will come to their senses and understand this important bill is right for Westchester. We’re Democrats, so we’re always hopeful and idealistic.”
Staudter said a majority of residents support this bill and he was disappointed by Astorino’s veto.
“We hope the County Executive understands that it’s not about justifying his religious beliefs with specious language,” Staudter said.
Legislator Peter Harckham (D-Katonah) said he was disappointed by Astorino’s decision, calling the bill balanced.
“It balanced a woman’s right to access health care services in privacy and dignity with people’s rights to pray and silently protest,” Harckham said. “It addressed concerns from both sides. It was debated extensively and should’ve been signed into law.”