Opponents and supporters pack chamber before vote

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

After prolonged debate, the Putnam County Legislature voted 8-1 on Tuesday (April 2) to approve a resolution seeking repeal of the Reproductive Health Act, a state law that ensures abortion rights, addresses related health matters, and removes references to abortion from the criminal code.

Legislator Nancy Montgomery, who represents Philipstown and is the body’s sole Democrat, cast the lone “no” vote.

The vote came during the Legislature’s regular monthly meeting, which drew crowds of opponents and supporters to the historic courthouse in Carmel where the Legislature convenes.

The two camps demonstrated outside and, well before the meeting, filled the chamber and broke into competing rounds of “Amazing Grace” (resolution supporters) and “We Shall Overcome” (opponents). Other spectators crowded the downstairs corridor and stairs, hoping to enter. Many got their chance only after early-comers left as the meeting stretched on for nearly four hours.

Many people in the audience held up signs voicing their support or opposition to abortion rights. (Photo by Ross Corsair)

The Putnam resolution urges Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature to repeal the Reproductive Health Act (RHA), which, it claims, is “essentially authorizing infanticide” and will make abortions “less safe and more common” and “allow violent criminal acts to go unpunished.” The RHA languished in Albany for years until winning passage in January after Democrats won enough seats in November to control the Senate and Assembly.

Although Putnam appears to be the first county to call for the repeal of the RHA, it is not the first time legislators in Carmel have passed a resolution opposing a state law. In 2013, its members unanimously called on state lawmakers to “set aside and annul” the New York State Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act (NY-SAFE), which it said “will have a detrimental effect on hunters, sportsmen and legal gun owners.” The legislatures in 51 other counties, including Dutchess, did the same.

Montgomery, who was elected to the Putnam County Legislature in November, strongly criticized the anti-RHA resolution during a committee meeting on March 18. On Tuesday she again argued that women must be free to make abortion decisions. She likewise questioned county resources being devoted to the resolution, including the hours spent by Robert Firriolo, the Legislature’s attorney, who drafted it and wrote an 11-page memo rebutting Montgomery’s March 18 critique.

Neither that memo, nor any emails, letters and phone messages the legislators received on the issue were included with the materials released to the public and media before the meeting.

Montgomery urged her colleagues “to correct this resolution before moving it forward,” because it “is filled with false claims. We have a responsibility to send [Albany] a resolution based on facts.” She described abortion as “a very, very personal issue,” best left to pregnant women to weigh, without interference, if they encounter difficulties, including serious medical complications. “Where is their voice? I’m here for these women. When government fails to do its job, people die.”

Legislator Nancy Montgomery makes a point during the debate over the resolution. (Photo by Ross Corsair)

Her colleagues responded, equally emphatically.

Science recognizes that “life begins at conception. Abortion takes away the life of a human. The taking of that innocent life is the point to which we object,” said Legislator Neal Sullivan of Carmel. “I’m very disappointed that the governor and state Legislature pushed this horrible legislation through.”

Legislator Carl Albano, who represents parts of Carmel and Patterson, noted that the Pledge of Allegiance refers to liberty and justice for all. “When we say, ‘for all,’ that includes the unborn.” He assured everyone that “there is no extra taxpayer money spent on topics like this.”

Legislator Paul Jonke of Southeast maintained that when county lawmakers object to state legislation, they have a responsibility to propose its repeal.

Legislator Ginny Nacerino of Patterson, who sponsored the resolution, contended that the RHA contains “way too many loopholes” and that, consequently, “a born-alive baby” who survives an abortion “has no rights in New York. I find this law to be barbaric and beyond the pale.” Many people stood to applaud, including a number of county employees and officials.

As Montgomery attempted to refute the allegations — “we’re not killing live babies” — a couple of her colleagues cut her off, demanding that they vote. So they did.

Later, before adjourning, legislators invited members of the public to speak. Nearly 40 people stepped forward, including at least seven Philipstown residents.

Carlos Salcedo of North Highlands, who supported the resolution, described the evening as uplifting. “In a moment as somber as this, I’m pretty excited we’re exercising our democratic rights” peacefully and with deep commitment, he said.

In emotional testimony, a woman criticized legislators for the resolution, citing what she said was her own experience with an abortion that was needed to save her life.
(Photo by Ross Corsair)

Ellen Egetor of Cold Spring read a poem accusing Cuomo and state lawmakers of “killing children” and predicting that “good Catholics will stop you” and “fire and brimstone are coming.”

Another Cold Spring resident, Connor Brennan, faulted “the county legislators who concocted this [resolution] to waste taxpayer money — and all for nothing,” when it could have gone to useful projects. “I congratulate you for tarnishing this venerable body’s reputation.”

Sonia Ryzy-Ryski of Nelsonville told legislators, “I want you to know that I’m not in favor of killing babies” and that “women are capable of making decisions” on abortion without lawmakers’ involvement.

Kevin McConville, a former candidate for county sheriff, praised legislators for their stance, which “took guts. And that’s what you’re elected to do,” he said. “You’ve earned my respect and admiration.”

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Armstrong was the founding news editor of The Current (then known as Philipstown.info) in 2010 and later a senior correspondent and contributing editor for the paper. She worked earlier in Washington as a White House correspondent and national affairs reporter and assistant news editor for daily international news services. Location: Cold Spring. Languages: English. Areas of expertise: Politics and government

8 replies on “Putnam Approves Anti-Abortion Resolution”

  1. Thank you Nancy Montgomery and others from our community for standing up for a woman’s right to choose.

  2. This is really offensive and disgraceful. With the exception of Nancy Montgomery, these legislators who oppose a woman’s right to choose are narrow minded, ignorant and, in my view, untrustworthy.

  3. What took more guts than anything else was for Legislator Montgomery to stand up for all women’s rights to control their own bodies and their own lives.

  4. I have no idea what planet the people behind the anti-abortion resolution are from, nor what era in time, but clearly it is from a place and time totally unrecognizable to me!

    When a legislative act involves itself in personal choice, the personal lives of women, clearly that Legislature has overstepped its bounds. When any person is denied the right to make their own decisions about their own lives, their inherent freedom of choices and the right to have service and healthcare related to that personal choice, then we are hardly living in the United States of America as it was intended from the very beginning.

    Keep your minds and hands and votes where they do not belong, in someone else’s inherent right to choose the manner in which they want to live their lives and the healthcare they may need to support that. Putnam County is now a place that I am thoroughly ashamed to call home. When ignorance reaches a systemtic level, we are all in serious, serious trouble. You may want to re-live the 1940s, but I sure as hell don’t! Shame on you, Putnam County Legislature! The ignorance here is appalling and embarrassing.

  5. Thank you for reporting on this. I would like to clarify that there was no “prolonged debate” — there was no debate at all, in fact. These legislators introduced a deeply flawed resolution on March 18, with barely any notice to the public beyond those who actively check the legislature’s website, and approved it two weeks later despite much opposition, including from the researcher cited in the resolution, Dr. Diana Greene Foster, who wrote to the legislature on March 28 to explain they had cited her research inaccurately and misunderstood the study used to support their position. No one made her letter public and the final text did not change in light of this. I had to write to her myself to find out.

    The public was allowed to speak and were deeply divided on the issue, but that did not constitute a debate — the public comments didn’t matter because the legislators acted on their own personal beliefs, rather than genuinely considering all the facts and nuance involved in this issue.

    This is part of a coordinated national effort on the part of faith-based organizations to overturn Roe v. Wade — it is shameful and embarrassing that Putnam County is behaving in similar fashion to the Bible Belt of Georgia. You do not work for the church, Putnam Legislature. Those who proposed and support (and probably wrote) the resolution are largely older, and the majority of legislators who voted in favor are men — the demographic this resolution actually affects broadly opposes it according to every existing poll on abortion.

    Read the resolution – it’s straight out of Handmaid’s Tale. It claims that the RHA authorizes infanticide and that women get late-term abortions for reasons including “travel considerations” and inconvenience. When was the last time you met a woman who terminated or wanted to terminate a viable 8.5-month pregnancy because she couldn’t go on vacation? The resolution similarly suggests that anyone will now be able to perform abortions without having spoken to any actual doctors about how the process works. Women and doctors make the best choices on these issues, they do not need legislators with zero knowledge of any of the facts, the majority of whom have never and will never be faced with these decisions, to speak for them.

    Please file a complaint with the Attorney General’s office if you oppose this resolution.

  6. I applaud all those who took the time to stand up for the rights of babies. I loathe the lies of the savage, barbaric lovers of murderers of these precious innocents’ souls. Abortion is big money. There is never ever a need to kill a baby. Never. I have been on both sides and am convinced if the rightness of the pro-life position.

  7. I’m not trying to change anyone’s opinion re: abortion rights or the RHA. Most people are pretty uncompromising and intractable on this issue. What I will say is that taxpayer dollars were *definitely* spent on this resolution, the public hearings, etc. This is time that could’ve been spent focusing on infrastructure and other areas where local governments actually have a meaningful impact. This resolution that will have no real world application. At all.

    Does everyone understand that one county legislature (there are more than 60 in New York State) passing a resolution that basically says, “we don’t like your state law and you should repeal it,” is a complete joke? Literally, this is going to have zero impact because (as we all learn in middle school) state law is above local law. Think of state law as the rock and local law as the scissor in a “rock, paper, scissor” scenario. I genuinely hope that analogy helps Legislator Albano. Gotta keep it simple for this “venerable body.”

  8. In my 50s and still find myself perplexed at those willing to allow government involvement in what is a deeply personal decision. Reproductive choice is an essential and fundamental component of modern human rights.

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