More than 50 years ago in New York, Republican support for abortion

A leaked draft opinion from Justice Samuel Alito to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark abortion rights decision Roe v. Wade has mobilized abortion rights advocates in New York state, where Democratic leaders said that they would maintain access to abortion. 

State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, who spoke to reporters after the draft was leaked, said that when New York state legalized abortion, three years before Roe v. Wade was decided, Republicans held power in the Senate and some of them joined Democrats in supporting a measure to repeal the state’s ban on abortions. 

“Under a Republican majority in the Senate, those reproductive rights laws were passed,” Stewart-Cousins said. “And not only was it a Republican majority leadership in the Senate, but 12 Republicans joined the majority of Democrats in order to pass our reproductive rights bills here.” 

Since then, the party has moved to the right on abortion. In 2019, when another abortion bill passed in New York, no Republicans in the state legislature supported it.

Stewart-Cousins is right that Republicans supported legalizing abortion in 1970. At the time, Republicans controlled the Senate, the Assembly and the governor’s office – but she got the tally wrong by one vote. 

The New York State Library and librarian Michael Meyer sent us photocopies of the Senate vote on bill 8556-A, which was voted on by the Senate on April 10, 1970. A vote on March 18, 1970, in the Senate on a more liberal version of the legislation had an identical tally. 

Thirteen Republican senators voted for the bill, which passed 31-26. The Senate had 57 districts in 1970. There are 63 districts today.

We approached Stewart-Cousins’ office, and spokesperson Emily Bruggeman sent us a New York Times article stating that in the Senate, the vote was 31 to 26, with 13 Republicans and 18 Democrats in favor, and 20 Republicans and six Democrats voting against it. 

Stewart-Cousins is correct that Republican leadership in the Senate allowed the bill to come to the floor, though the majority leader at the time, Sen. Earl Brydges of Niagara Falls, was no proponent of abortion. Brydges could have stopped the vote, but he did not. An abortion rights supporter told the New York Times that Brydges miscalculated, that he allowed a vote for a full repeal of the abortion ban, without restrictions, because he did not think it would pass. 

Brydges reserved his comments during the floor debate for the roll call vote, and he said he was disturbed by the bill.

“I have kept my word to do nothing to keep this bill from coming to the floor or not to lobby personally against it,” Brydges said, according to the New York Times. “But I have a deep, real, abiding conviction that this is the wrong way for the state to go because we are a bellwether state and many other states will follow our lead.” 

Gov. Nelson Rockefeller had been calling for changing the state’s abortion law and signed the measure in 1970. When a repeal of the legalization was passed in 1972, he vetoed it

Our ruling   

Stewart-Cousins said that legalization of abortion in New York state was approved with the support of 12 Republicans in the Senate. She missed one vote. The roll call shows 13 Republicans in the Senate supported the bill. 

We rate her statement True, because being off by one vote doesn’t significantly affect its accuracy.

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