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Pro-choice Catholics confident Cuomo will introduce Women’s Equality Act

As the state’s legislative session winds down, efforts are intensifying to ensure Gov. Andrew Cuomo makes good on a promise to introduce a bill that would strengthen the state’s abortion law.

In his January State of the State Address, Cuomo detailed a 10-point Women’s Equality Act that included a promise to introduce by year’s end a bill that would reinforce a woman’s right to choose. Citing Cuomo’s support and a June 4 rally in Albany, Catholic pro-choice advocates are confident a bill will be introduced before the legislative session closes in three weeks.

“We’ve heard from the governor that he’s committed to doing this and he’s committed to making this happen this year, this session,” said Sara Hutchinson, a program director with Catholics for Choice, an organization that diverges from the Church’s positions on issues such as abortion, sexuality and birth control.

But Dennis Poust, communications director with the New York State Catholic Conference, said it’s needless to expand abortion in “far and away, the abortion capital in the nation.” He added that Catholics for Choice is not an organization officially recognized by the Catholic Church.

Cuomo and pro-choice advocates believe the abortion component of the 10-point plan codifies what’s already considered federal law into state legislation. But pro-life advocates, including Church leaders, have denounced the plan, and said it would further expand abortion practices.

Hutchinson said the proposal aligns with the beliefs of a majority of Catholics and called the Church’s leadership out of step with the public policy beliefs of the nation’s “everyday Catholics,” including the 7.4 million in New York State.

Referring to surveys conducted throughout Catholics for Choice’s history, Hutchinson said only about 14 percent of Catholics agree with church leadership that abortion should be illegal in all instances. A pamphlet issued by Catholics for Choice, which features a 2008 Pew poll that found 59 percent of Catholic respondents out of 3,000 adults surveyed, believe abortion should be legal in “most or some” cases.

“It’s one thing for them to share teaching, to share doctrine. That’s their role as leaders, as the hierarchy of our church. That’s their role,” Hutchinson said. “But they want everyone to be forced to follow the Catholic doctrine role, that’s very different.”

Hutchinson further criticized Catholic leadership for imposing its religious views on public policy.

“What Catholics choose to do for themselves, what they do for their families, is very different than the bishop pressuring the folks in Albany to codify one religious viewpoint into state law.”

The state’s Catholic Conference has kept watch over Cuomo since he issued the 10-point plan in January and recognizes the window for the governor to introduce a bill this session is rapidly closing.

Poust called the Women’s Equality Act an attempt to “gift wrap” an abortion proposal by grouping it with less controversial measures. Less divisive points Cuomo outlined in his State of the State address included better policing sex trafficking, a no-tolerance policy on workplace sexual harassment and leveling pay inequality.

“We think that’s just a cynical political gain,” Poust said.