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State Legislature must correct its failure to pass tougher domestic violence laws

If a global review of domestic violence against women is accurate, then the entire world is confronted with a problem that demands action. While the just-released report shows the rate of domestic violence against women was highest in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, North America is hardly exempt and, as residents of Western New York know too well, neither is this state.

The report by the World Health Organization is the first major global review of violence against women. Released last week, it found that about a third of women have been physically or sexually assaulted by a former or current partner. And while the researchers used a broad definition of domestic violence, ranging from being slapped to being attacked with a weapon, the report estimated that more than 600 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not even a crime.

It’s a problem that every country and every state in this country should address. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo made a concerted effort to do that in the legislative session that ended last week. It failed because opponents mischaracterized part of it and because neither Cuomo nor his supporters would take the sensible step of accepting half a loaf – or, this case, nine-tenths of a loaf.

Cuomo’s 10-point “women’s equality agenda” included nine upon which just about everyone agreed, among them: protecting victims of domestic violence by strengthening order-of-protection laws, stopping housing discrimination against victims of domestic violence, requiring pay equity and strengthening human trafficking laws and stopping pregnancy discrimination.

The effort fell apart because of the measure’s effort to codify state abortion laws. That aspect of the bill was meant as a useful bulwark against the possibility the Supreme Court some day might reverse Roe v. Wade.

But opponents, mainly among Senate Republicans, disingenuously portrayed that component of the bill as an effort to expand abortion rights in New York and even to open the door to more late-term abortions. It was no such thing, but even in this state, Republican senators didn’t want their names attached to any measure that protects abortion rights.

Cuomo and his supporters, meanwhile, refused to peel off the abortion component, which isn’t currently needed, to protect the other nine, which are. It was a bad decision, borne of stubbornness.

Timing is everything, and as the World Health Organization’s report shows, the time is now to protect women in New York State and elsewhere from domestic violence. We are too familiar with it here. No one needs to look too far to find a friend, relative, colleague or acquaintance who has been a victim of domestic abuse, physical or sexual.

One of the most shocking cases here was the death of Jackie Wisniewski, who was stalked and murdered by Dr. Timothy V. Jorden Jr., her former boyfriend. Jorden then killed himself. That was last year and many more women have been victimized in Western New York since then. They were counting on the governor and the Legislature to offer them and other women a measure of protection. Both failed.

Cuomo has called on lawmakers to return to Albany to pass the nine important but noncontroversial points in his legislation. They should read the World Health Organization’s report and then do just that.

We suspect that abortion issue will arise again next year, when it will become a factor in the 2014 legislative elections. That’s fine and even appropriate. But between now and then, more women will be beaten or sexually abused by someone they know. Albany needs to reconsider these matters as soon as possible.