Women’s Groups Back O’Brien in Senate Battleground

Women’s Groups Back O’Brien in Senate Battleground

Women’s Groups Back O’Brien in Senate Battleground
July 6, 2014

State Sen. Ted O’Brien, a first-term Democrat whose Rochester-area district is expected to be a key battleground this fall, will have the backing of two major women’s rights organizations in his bid for reelection.

NARAL and Family Planning Advocates, which represents the state’s Planned Parenthood affiliates, are set to endorse O'Brien today in his race against Richard Funke, a Republican and a former local TV newscaster. Both organizations raised concerns about Funke’s views on abortion while applauding O’Brien’s record.

“Senator Ted O’Brien has stood with us in demanding that all New Yorkers, regardless of gender, be treated equally and with respect,” M. Tracey Brooks of the Planned Parenthood Advocates of New York Political Committee said in a statement. “The voters of the 55th Senate District don't want to have someone like Richard Funke, who doesn't share our values on reproductive health care, as an elected representative. We are proud to endorse Senator Ted O'Brien and we know that he will continue his fight to guarantee the women of New York State receive the equality and protections they deserve.”

Democrats expect women’s issues to resonate on the campaign trail, especially in the wake of the failure to pass the 10-point Women’s Equality Agenda. After Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled the package in early 2013, Republicans supported most of it but rejected a controversial abortion rights measure that would codify the U.S. Supreme Court Roe v. Wade ruling in state law. Assembly Democrats insisted on passing the entire package, but in 2014 the two sides ended in a stalemate for a second straight year.

O’Brien, who represents part of Rochester and surrounding communities in eastern Monroe County and western Ontario County, said that he was honored to win endorsements from NARAL and Family Planning Advocates.

“Protecting women’s rights is one of my top priorities as a State Senator, which is why I continue to be a vocal advocate for passing the entire Women’s Equality Act,” O’Brien said. “It’s about time that New York’s women finally receive equal pay for equal work, are better protected against discrimination and harassment, and have guaranteed control over their own reproductive health choices.”

O’Brien also argued that Republicans in the Senate and their “anti-choice” allies were to blame for blocking the Women’s Equality Act. The controversial abortion rights measure included in the package would enact in state law a woman's to terminate a pregnancy up to 24 weeks after conception or at any point to save the her own life or protect her health.

Scott Reif, a spokesman for the Senate Republicans, blasted the endorsements.

"It's no surprise that two groups who have joined the Senate Democrats in holding our comprehensive women's equality agenda hostage for an extreme provision that would expand late-term abortion are endorsing Ted O'Brien's desperate and dishonest campaign,” Reif said. “New Yorkers understand that Senate Republicans are fighting to protect the health and safety of women and their families, while Ted O'Brien is joining his radical New York City Democrat colleagues in supporting a bill that would allow non-doctors to perform an abortion right up until the moment of a baby's birth.”

Women’s issues also played a role in the district in the 2012 elections, when O’Brien came from behind to beat Sean Hanna, then a Republican assemblyman. During that campaign, Hanna came under attack for his record on access to abortions.

It is unclear from Funke’s campaign web site what his official position is on abortion rights, but he does have a page dedicated to “Equal Pay for Women.” In a video, Funke wades into the controversy over the Women’s Equality Act and blames Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver for not allowing a vote on an equal pay bill—another one of the ten points of the legislative package—as a stand-alone measure.

“As somebody who’s not a politician, I think this is just one more example of how the politicians in Albany just don’t get it,” Funke said. “Issues like equal pay for women are just too important to hold hostage, or to fall victim to partisan political games.”

But some women’s groups aren’t buying it. Andrea Miller, the president of NARAL-Pro Choice New York, said that reelecting O’Brien was critical “with women’s basic health care rights under attack by extremists in Washington and in Albany.”

“Ted recognizes that all New Yorkers deserve to be treated equally and have access to affordable reproductive health care,” Miller said. “The same cannot be said of his opponent, Richard Funke, whose anti-choice views are out of touch with the residents of Monroe and Ontario Counties. A vote for Funke would be another vote against the Women’s Equality Act; he cannot be trusted on the issues that are important to us.”

Jon Lentz
is City & State’s editor-in-chief.