On the campaign trail last year, freshman Republicans in hotly contested congressional swing districts assured voters that abortion rights in New York would remain the same despite the recent repeal of Roe v. Wade. But since taking office, several have taken votes or supported legislation that would seem at odds with their campaign promises that states should handle the abortion debate and that they would oppose a federal abortion ban.
Perhaps most notably, upstate Rep. Brandon Williams in May signed on as a co-sponsor to H.R.7, legislation that would not only codify the Hyde Amendment – which bans the use of federal money for abortions – but would prohibit private insurance plans purchased through an Affordable Care Act exchange from covering abortion as well. If it became law, the bill would also override laws in New York and a handful of other states that require most private insurers to cover abortion. Williams is one of only four Republicans who have cosponsored the bill.
Last year, Williams told Syracuse.com that abortion is a states’ rights issue. “The federal government needs to stay out of this,” he told the news outlet while running in the highly competitive race. “The states have to resolve this." A spokesperson for Williams said the Congress member is still recovering from a recent bypass surgery and could not provide official comment before deadline.
Three Democrats have already declared runs in the 22nd Congressional District that Williams represents, including state Sen. John Mannion, a moderate representing the Syracuse area, and Sarah Klee Hood, who came in a close second in last year’s Democratic primary for the same seat.
Williams is also a member of the Republican Study Committee along with fellow freshman Rep. Nick LaLota of Long Island. The caucus consists of many conservative members of the House majority and is behind many of the most far-right policy pushes coming from the chamber since Republicans took control at the start of this year. Although neither Williams nor LaLota are personally co-sponsors of these pieces of legislation, the Republican Study Committee released a budget proposal endorsed by its members that included a number of bills limiting abortion at the federal level, including an outright ban from the moment of conception, a “fetal heartbeat” bill that would make abortions illegal after six weeks, and a 15-week abortion ban. Like Williams, LaLota also said that abortion should be left up to the states while campaigning. “The Congressman does not support a national ban on abortion,” LaLota spokesperson Will Kiley said in a statement to City & State when asked about the caucus’ budget. “He believes that these policies are best settled by individual states.” LaLota won his race in the 1st Congressional District handily by 11 points last year, and the district has remained a fairly strong Republican stronghold on Long Island’s east end. But Democrats have targeted it in the past, and came within five points of former Rep. Lee Zeldin in 2018.
Democrats have also decried an amendment added to the National Defense Authorization Act last week that would curtail abortion access for members of the military by ending the practice of reimbursing travel expenses for service members to get abortion services. All but two Republicans – including all of New York’s GOP delegation – voted in favor of the contentious amendment that is expected to imperil the future of the crucial spending bill due to Democratic opposition to the measure. The abortion-related measure was pushed by the far-right Freedom Caucus in the House. According to CNN, a White House spokesperson said Republicans were “hijacking a bipartisan bill and devolving it into a hardcore rightwing wishlist.”
Votes in favor of the amendment include Reps. Marc Molinaro and Mike Lawler, two moderate Republicans from the Hudson Valley who have touted their bipartisan chops in the past, and pledged to vote against national abortion bans while campaigning. “This amendment has been mischaracterized. It doesn’t have anything to do with limiting access. It was on not using federal taxpayer dollars for transportation to abortion services – something the federal government doesn’t fund,” Molinaro said in a statement to City & State, calling it a long-standing bipartisan policy. “I have continued to say I won’t vote for a federal abortion ban. I stand by that.”
A spokesperson for Lawler also rejected the idea that his support for the amendment is at odds with what he said on the campaign trail. “As he has said repeatedly, Congressman Lawler has not and will not vote for a federal ban on abortion,” spokesperson Nate Soule said in a statement to City & State. “The bipartisan-supported NDAA did not have any language that would institute a national ban on abortion, and any claim to the contrary is false and a cheap attempt at scoring political points.”
Update: This story has been updated with comments from Reps. Nick LaLota and Mike Lawler.
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