Last week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo introduced the Women’s Equality Act, a 10-point plan aimed primarily at ending discrimination against women in all its various and Medusa-like forms. It works to (finally) end pay inequality in the state, and extends more protections to victims of domestic violence and human trafficking. It protects all New York state workers from sexual harassment, instead of just those in a workplace with four or more employees. It safeguards pregnant women against discrimination, and requires employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” for them if necessary. Taken as a whole, Gov. Cuomo’s “Women’s Bill of Rights” is a piece of legislation that, in a perfect world, would be passed speedily and without any trouble.
But, as usual, trouble is a-comin’. And it isn’t too difficult — though it is disheartening — to see why. Cuomo’s last point, “Protect a Woman’s Freedom of Choice,” would bring New York’s abortion laws up to the federal level established by Roe v. Wade, ensuring a New Yorker’s right to choose even if the federal law is overturned. And predictably, anti-abortion activists are up in arms, with conservative state senators threatening to defeat the entire bill over a single point.
They argue that it will expand access to abortions in the state. It won’t. New York law is already superseded by federal law. Governor Cuomo’s proposal merely brings state law up to speed on paper, in the (unlikely) event that Roe v. Wade is overturned. They argue that it would allow non-doctors to perform abortions. It won’t. An earlier provision expanding the types of health professionals who could perform abortions was already removed to appease conservative lawmakers.
As governor, Cuomo has worked refreshingly hard to protect women’s rights. Earlier this year, he pushed a “Rape is Rape” bill that only recently passed the State Assembly, which redefined rape to include most types of sexual assault. With the Women’s Equality Act, he takes another important step in an equality battle that has been going on since quite literally the dawn of man.
“Bias against women is sweeping,” he said recently at a press conference about the bill. “It exists. The discrimination exists.” And he’s right. It does exist, and it’s probably always going to exist — at least for our foreseeable future. But passage of this bill could be a small victory that, combined with other small victories, could actually end up creating real progress for women, especially in oft-ignored areas of discrimination. The abortion provision, while a vital protection for women that should not be removed, is not where the real work of this bill is accomplished. Millions of New York women who face run-of-the-mill discrimination every day will now have more ways to fight back, protecting themselves and their families. If New York’s conservative lawmakers truly care about both halves of their constituency, they’ll pass Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Act — without letting personal beliefs get in the way of real progress.