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Women's Equality Act campaign restarts for 2014

A coalition of women’s groups is relaunching the Women’s Equality Act, which failed in the legislature earlier this year, with a new strategy that they say could help them win passage in 2014.

The Women’s Equality Act coalition is restarting. They have a new website, are organizing through social media, and have produced a video they that uses humor to connect with supporters.

An actor playing a game show host describes several scenarios to young woman playing a contestant and then gives her a choice of two answers, “illegal” or “just sleazy.” The situations include pay inequality, sexual harassment and denial of housing to domestic violence victims.

The lone woman contestant guesses wrong on each question, saying it must be illegal. But much to her chagrin, finds the discrimination described is actually not against the law .

Tracey Brooks, with Family Planning Advocates, is one of the leaders of the Coalition.

“We’ve used some satiristic styling to really poke fun at the fact that this is long overdue,” Brooks said.

The coalition will use more traditional methods as well, including phone banking, op eds, and letters to the editor.

Last year the women’s equality act failed to become law over a dispute over one of its ten provisions, known as the Reproductive Health Act. It would in part codify the abortion rights in the US Supreme Court Roe v Wade decision.

The State Assembly, led by Democrats, passed all ten provisions, including the codifying of the abortion rights. The Senate, led by Republicans and a handful of breakaway Democrats, passed nine of the tenets of the women’s equality act, but did not have enough votes for the abortion rights provision.

Brooks, whose group lobbies for the state’s Planned Parenthoods, says the women’s coalition wants to try to get all ten provisions passed in 2014.

Brooks says polls show that majority of New Yorkers support the abortion rights spelled out in Roe v Wade. She says all it would take to get the act passed into law is to change the votes of a handful of Senators and she says she hopes the new campaign will energize the public to lobby their Senators to vote yes.

“We’re asking the constituents to make those individual phone calls, those visits, emails and tweets to their legislators,” Brooks said. “To remind them that this is important.”  

Most of the same groups who lobbied in the last legislative session for the women’s equality act have joined the effort again for 2014, with one major exception.

NARAL Pro Choice New York is no longer with the coalition. NARAL split with the rest of the groups in the final hours of the session last June, when many of the groups, along with Governor Cuomo, tried to convince Assembly Democrats to go back and pass the nine other provisions in the act, cutting out the abortion rights provisions, in order to achieve a partial victory. NARAL did not want the reproductive health act separated from the rest.

NARAL’s Andrea Miller says the group will lobby for the entire agenda during the 2014 session, but if it’s not successful, will pursue a more overtly political campaign. She says they will target key Senators who are either pro-choice or live in predominantly pro-choice districts who oppose the reproductive health act in the November elections.

“We’ll be making those judgments as the session ends and as we move into the election cycle,” Miller said.

The women’s equality coalition is not set up to become involved in electoral politics.  

Governor Cuomo made the women’s equality act a top priority in 2013. He has not yet said what his agenda will be for 2014.

The New York State Catholic Conference, which opposes the abortion rights provision, responded to the relaunched women’s equality act coalition.

“We fail to see the humor in late-term abortion expansion,” said spokesman Dennis Poust, in a tweet. “While they yuck it up, we'll give NYers the facts.”

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.