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Female elected officials in New York pledge support for reproductive rights

 New York Governor Kathy Hochul speaking at the University at Buffalo Aug. 31, 2021
WAMC screenshot
New York Governor Kathy Hochul speaking at the University at Buffalo Aug. 31, 2021

Female leaders in New York are pledging to continue protecting reproductive rights amid a flurry of new court challenges.

Democrat Kathy Hochul, New York’s first female governor, gathered a number of fellow women leaders at the state capitol in Albany Friday, just moments before the Supreme Court temporarily halted a lower court ruling limiting distribution of abortion pills.

New York is among the states that has promised to remain a safe haven for women seeking abortions after the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade last year.

The Supreme Court is expected to weigh in as soon as this week on dueling lower court rulings on the legality of mifepristone.

The initial ruling that set off the latest domino effect would have ended mifepristone sales across the country over the weekend. States that oppose the move quickly began stockpiling abortion drugs.

Hochul says New York is responding swiftly given the uncertainty.

“We’re working with the legislature to require private insurance to cover medication abortion when it’s prescribed off-label,” she said. “And we refuse to go backwards. Wherever they turn, whatever stroke of a pen where they wipe out women’s rights, we’ll be there to counter. We’ll be there to stand strong. Because we know what real American values are. People love to talk about American values; they’re about freedom. Freedom means a lot of things to a lot of people, but I’ll tell you what it means as woman: it’s the freedom to decide what you want to do with your own body.”

Fellow Democrat Andrea Stewart-Cousins of Yonkers is the Senate Majority Leader.

“We just don’t lose a little bit of freedom, we lose it all on every level if we sit quietly by and watch it go away,” she said. “This is not that place. New York is not that place.”

The press conference was a rare visit to the capitol’s Red Room during bogged down state budget talks. Also speaking was Attorney General Tish James:

“I want to make clear that abortion is still legal in the state of New York,” she said. “And as long as we have Gov. Hochul it will remain legal. And as long as I’m the attorney general, I will use the law both as a sword and as a shield against any individual who seeks to strip away that basic right, because abortion is healthcare.”

A high-profile federal lawmaker also spoke. U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand calls the initial Texas court ruling “an outrage” and says the battle is just beginning.

“Women have a right to reproductive care, lifesaving care, and we are going to fight this in every court and every venue we can find,” she said. “Because American women and their families deserve freedom and privacy.”

Mifepristone had been approved the FDA more than 20 years ago. The Biden administration says the ruling poses an existential threat to the FDA’s ability to review and approve a variety of medications.

Hochul was asked about the status of a fund created last year to bolster reproductive healthcare services in New York.

“The $35 million will be repeated because this was to help our providers all across the state, and I'm from Western New York, I can't tell you how many people have come from places like Ohio and other states in search of an abortion,” she said. “And that has put tremendous pressure on our New York state providers. So we wanted to allow them to hire more people, expand their facilities, so the women of our state can also be served as well.”

A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.