The Women's Equality Act Is Not Forgotten

The Women's Equality Act Is Not Forgotten

The Women's Equality Act Is Not Forgotten
May 7, 2014

When I think about the 10-point Women's Equality Act, I find it hard to understand why it is difficult to pass these common sense bills in a progressive state like New York. The women of this state deserve to have their basic, fundamental rights recognized and confirmed by the state government and not treated as just political issues.

In the past, Albany has tackled 10-point Women’s Equality Act (WEA), I controversial legislation by tying multiple, often unrelated initiatives together in a comprehensive package sometimes labeled the “Big Ugly.” Policies ranging from the property tax cap to rent control regulations have all been deemed important enough to be included in these omnibus bills, ensuring that they’ll pass by giving politicians on both sides of the aisle something they want.

The governor and the Assembly embraced this often successful strategy with the Women’s Equality Act. However, the Republican/IDC leadership refused to follow this pattern and broke the WEA apart—ultimately failing to pass what the governor had presented and the Assembly approved.

The failure to pass the entire 10-point package is particularly troubling because the people of New York State overwhelmingly support all 10 of the issues addressed in the Women’s Equality Act. This legislation includes provisions that ensure women will receive equal pay for equal work and recognizes that pay inequality continues to hold New York’s economy back. The WEA would end multiple forms of inequity that women face, including family status, pregnancy discrimination and source-of-income discrimination.

The Women’s Equality Act would also combat sexual harassment in the workplace, strengthen human trafficking laws and provide greater protections for victims of domestic violence. But what has held up the entire package is a political fight over the last point of the WEA, a simple codification of the federal choice provisions into New York State law.

Republican opposition to the 10th point of the Women’s Equality Act is all the more shocking when we recognize that New York actually decriminalized abortion in 1970, prior to federal law, passing choice legislation through the Republican-controlled Senate with 12 Republican senators joining most of their Democratic colleagues in favor of this initiative.

That today not a single Senate Republican would vote for a simple codification of federal choice provisions is distressing. But the fact that this attitude is supported by the Senate Leadership, allowing the entire 10-point Women’s Equality Act to be held up in the State Senate, is inexcusable.

The fact remains that the majority of New Yorkers are women, even though the leadership in Albany does not reflect that. Clearly women’s rights, health and equality transcends the boundaries of partisan politics.


State Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins is the leader of the state Senate Democratic Conference.