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Abortion Rights Could Divide State Senate's Bipartisan Leaders

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Cracks are beginning to show in the bipartisan coalition controlling the state Senate, as co-leaders Jeff Klein and Dean Skelos seem to be at odds over an abortion rights bill that Governor Andrew Cuomo supports. NY1's Zack Fink filed the following report.

ALBANY — When it came to passing the toughest gun laws in the nation earlier this month, Democratic state Senate co-leader Jeff Klein was widely praised for successfully shepherding the the bill through his republican dominated coalition.

But the next hurdle may not be so easy. After calling reporters to a press conference Tuesday at the state capitol, Klein did not want to talk about a bill expanding abortion rights.

"Then there is nothing to respond to," Klein said. He told reporters that his coalition partner, Republican Dean Skelos, is opposed to the Reproductive Health Act.

"I'll be more than happy to talk to you. I will not talk to anybody on behalf of something I didn't hear," Klein said.

But Skelos made no secret of his views.

"The way I look at this legislation, is that really it is an expansion of late-term abortion and partial-birth abortion. That's the main accomplishment of this," Skelos said.

Both Klein and Skelos need to agree in order to bring a piece of legislation to the floor for a vote.

Klein is staunchly pro-choice, and critics say this issue highlights the difficulties of the governing coalition in the state Senate between Republicans and the breakaway Democrats.

"The Reproductive Health Act codifies Roe v Wade. The reason we have to make changes is that our laws predate Roe v. Wade," said Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

"I think the senate Democrats need to take step back and evaluate their conference. They don't need a dream, they need a calculator," Klein said. "And the last time I checked, there are at least two Democrats in the conference who are not pro-choice."

As of now, the Reproductive Health Act cannot pass with just Democrats and independent Democrats. Republican votes would be needed.

"In terms of the reproductive rights part, abortion is safe and legal in New York State and the law is not going to be changed," said Skelos.

Governor Andrew Cuomo had included the Reproductive Health Act as part of a larger package of bills aimed at grater equality for women that includes equal pay and ending discrimination. How hard he will fight for the abortion rights bill remains to be seen.

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