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Local assembly members on opposite sides of the aisle, on opposite sides of reproductive rights bills

Assemblymen Fred Thiele (I,D-Sag Harbor and Anthony Palumbo (R,C- New Suffolk) voted in opposition to each other on a pair of reproductive rights bills passed by the Assembly along party lines this week. File photos: Denise Civiletti

Abortion rights and access to contraceptives were on the agenda in the New York State Assembly this week and the East End’s two assembly members, on opposite sides of the political aisle, cast opposite votes on both measures.

Both bills, which advocates say are aimed at protecting women’s reproductive freedoms in an era of uncertainty in Washington, passed the Democratically controlled chamber in largely party-line votes Tuesday.

Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R,C-New Suffolk), whose Second Assembly District spans the North Fork and northeastern Brookhaven, voted no on both bills.  First District Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I,D-Sag Harbor), whose district takes in the South Fork, Shelter Island and southeastern Brookhaven, supported both measures.

The Reproductive Health Act would codify in New York State law the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in the 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade decision. It would update state laws to protect a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy within 24 weeks, or when the pregnancy is not viable, or endangers her life or health.

The Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act, requires health insurers to cover all FDA-approved contraceptive drugs, devices and products when they are prescribed by a health care provider. However, it leaves in place existing state law that allows religious employers to request an insurance policy that does not cover contraceptive methods. The legislation would ensure coverage for emergency contraception, voluntary sterilization, patient education and counseling and all related follow-up care. Insurance companies would be prohibited from charging co-pays, co-insurance payments and deductibles for contraception and are barred from imposing any restrictions or delays with respect to such coverage.

The Affordable Care Act requires insurance providers to cover contraception and preventive services at no cost to the consumer. If Congress repeals the ACA, this legislation would ensure contraceptive coverage will remain a requirement in New York.

“From coast to coast, women are fighting for their reproductive freedom, pushing back against what seems to be never-ending attacks on their rights,” Thiele said. “Over and over, we hear politicians arguing about what’s best for women, as if it’s their decision to make. Let me be clear: A woman and her doctor know what’s best for her health — not the government and not an insurance company.”

“It’s been nearly 44 years since the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Roe v. Wade, and yet the threat to women’s reproductive rights is as alarming and real as ever,” Thiele said, noting that in 2017 so far, at least 46 anti-choice bills have been introduced or are pending in state legislatures across the country.

“With an anti-choice president about to take office with a Supreme Court vacancy to fill, the time to fight back is now,” said Thiele.

Palumbo did not respond to a request for comment by presstime.

The State Assembly has passed similar measures in at least the last three legislative sessions. In each session, corresponding bills have died in committee in the State Senate.

The Reproductive Health Act was introduced in the State Senate this week by Sen. Liz Krueger, Democrat of Manhattan. The Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act has not yet been introduced in the State Senate, though it is expected to be.

“For years, we have been told by our colleagues in the Senate that these explicit state protections are not necessary because of existing federal law and Supreme Court decisions,” Assembly Speaker Heastie said in a press release Tuesday.

“Now more than ever, it is very clear that those federal protections are in jeopardy and that New York must uphold our legacy as a progressive leader by protecting the most fundamental right of women to make their own decisions regarding reproductive choice and family planning,” Heastie said. “In order to achieve full equality, women must have full autonomy and equal access to contraceptives.”

Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter and editor, an attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including a “writer of the year” award from the N.Y. Press Association in 2015. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.