Abortion rights have emerged as a clash point for many Congressional races since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June.
That's true in the Hudson Valley's 17th District, where the differences are stark between state Assemblyman Mike Lawler, R-Pearl River and six-term incumbent Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-Cold Spring.
Lawler opposes elective abortion, even early in a woman’s pregnancy. Lawler backs limiting abortion rights to victims of rape and incest, or if the pregnancy threatens the mother's life, according to an op-ed submitted to the USA TODAY Network.
He also opposes a federal ban on abortion proposed by U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, and has vowed to vote against such a bill if he wins a seat in Congress.
“I am personally pro-life,” Lawler wrote. “My support for life was reaffirmed for me when my wife and I experienced a miscarriage in 2020. Thankfully, we were blessed with a healthy baby girl this year!”
Maloney, on the other hand, is a champion for abortion rights.
In July, Maloney was co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2022, which would codify the rights set down in Roe v. Wade. While the bill narrowly passed the House, Senate Democrats have yet to call it to a vote because passage would require 60 votes to overcome a filibuster by Senate Republicans.
The 17th District includes Rockland and Putnam counties, Westchester north of Interstate 287, and three towns in southern Dutchess.
At a rally Sept. 27 at Pierson Park in Tarrytown, Maloney criticized Lawler’s position on reproductive rights. Also speaking on abortion rights were Westchester County Executive George Latimer, State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, and state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, D-Armonk, who Maloney beat in the August primary.
“Mike Lawler cheered when the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade because he wants politicians to control women’s personal, medical decisions,” said Maloney. “I believe those decisions belong between a woman and her doctor.”
The abortion issue has rattled New York Republicans since the June decision in the case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. In a special election in the 19th Congressional district in August, Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan, a Democrat, campaigned hard in favor of abortion rights in his narrow win over Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro.
Lawler’s position on abortion has evolved through the 2022 campaign season, with his position becoming more restrictive as voters weigh who to vote for on Nov. 8, according to interviews with Lawler and his written statements on the issue.
In an interview in August, before the Republican primary, Lawler said he backed abortion rights to protect both the health and life of the pregnant woman as well as those who were victims of rape and incest.
He had the same position in an earlier version of the op-ed submitted.
The exception for health was removed from his latest version, with only the life of the mother allowable to access abortion.
Lawler spokesperson Bill O'Reilly insisted Lawler hadn't changed his position. He said serious health issues in pregnancy could threaten a woman's life.
"He considers that health," O'Reilly said. "Health issues jeopardize a life."
Catherine Lederer-Plaskett, executive director of the White Plains-based WCLA Choice Matters, said restricting abortion until a woman’s life is in danger can lead to unneeded suffering, and could delay care because the physician feared a review by hospital personnel who could question if the woman’s life was actually in danger.
“If the exception is life, and life alone, there may be doctors not willing to exercise your right,” she said. “Doctors are scared of losing their license to practice.”
Supporters speak out
Among Lawler’s supporters is Eileen Peterson of Stony Point, a member of the Rockland Right to Life Committee and the Rockland Catholic Coalition.
"In November, we are encouraging voters to consider the candidates who support and protects the precious gift of life,” she said. “If Mike Lawler were to represent our district in Congress, that would be such a gift.”
Backing Maloney is Elizabeth Zimmerman of Bedford, who chairs the Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic Action Fund.
“Maloney has an excellent record, and is a longtime strong advocate for women, for families and for choice,” she said. “We are lucky to have champions of reproductive rights like him representing us in Westchester.”
During his primary campaign, Lawler said he believed “most voters” preferred a shorter time-frame for elective abortions − up to 15 weeks into their pregnancy. That's nine weeks shorter than New York's 24-week limit.
Lawler likes to equate New York's abortion law with those in place in Asia, which abortion advocates say distorts the status of productive rights in the state.
“In 2019, New York went all the way, allowing abortions right up until the moment of birth, for virtually any reason − something I vehemently oppose − aligning itself with nations like China and North Korea, where abortions are used as a form of population control and gender selection,” Lawler said.
That's disinformation, said Lederer-Plaskett.
The New York state Department of Health website lists two criteria for abortion after 24 weeks: to protect the health of the mother or if fetal abnormalities threaten a live birth.
"New York's law has nothing to do with population control or gender selection," she said. "It's about bodily autonomy, and these choices must be certified by a physician."
Lawler backs states' rights
Lawler supports the framework set up by the Supreme Court following the Dobbs decision, which favors states' rights. Since then, 13 states have banned elective abortion, said Kelly Krause of the Center for Reproductive Rights. Arizona reinstated a ban enacted in 1901 that had been mothballed during the 49 years Roe v. Wade was in force.
Texas crafted a new statute that barred abortions six weeks after gestation, with abortions allowed after six weeks in physician-approved medical emergencies. Arkansas banned all abortions, except if a mother's life was endangered.
“The Supreme Court ruling kicked it back to the states,” Lawler said. “From my perspective, it’s not a federal issue. It’s dealt with at the state level, and each state makes a determination.”
Maloney said he will fight for abortion rights for all American women. While Lawler said he would oppose a federal ban on abortions, Maloney co-sponsored the bill to ensure abortion rights nationwide.
“Lawler wants a post-Roe America where states nationwide are banning abortion, at times without exceptions for rape, incest or the life of the mother,” said Maloney. “His radical, anti-choice views would endanger the lives and rights of women across America, and are out of touch with the vast majority of folks here in the Hudson Valley.”
Follow David McKay Wilson on Twitter @davidmckay415.
This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: How Mike Lawler, Sean Patrick Maloney differ on abortion