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Abortion, women’s health are issues in campaign for Congress


Though the 2012 election has focused mostly on jobs, women’s health and abortion rights have taken brief turns in the electoral limelight.

That includes the campaign race between Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, and Republican Matthew A. Doheny. Where do the candidates stand on those issues?

In an interview, Mr. Owens said he supports abortion rights until 24 weeks into a pregnancy, with exceptions after 24 weeks for victims of rape or incest or when the woman’s life is in danger. He opposes cutting off funds to Planned Parenthood.

Mr. Doheny supports abortion rights in the first trimester, or 12 weeks, of a pregnancy. But he declined to be interviewed on the subject. Instead, his campaign referred to his previous statements on the subject, which leave out some details.

A search of Mr. Doheny’s website and a general Web search did not turn up evidence that Mr. Doheny has addressed whether abortion should be allowed after the first trimester of a pregnancy in the cases of rape or incest or when a mother’s life is in danger.

At a 2010 forum in front of a tea party group, Mr. Doheny said that abortion was a particularly difficult issue for him because of his Catholic background — his weekly attendance at Mass and his seven years as an altar boy at St. Cyril’s Catholic Church in Alexandria Bay.

But, he said: “I believe in freedom. For the first trimester, I believe in a woman’s right to choose.”

He went on to say that he believes in “all kinds” of restrictions, but specifically named only laws that require parents to be notified when a minor is having an abortion. New York laws currently don’t require parental notification. He does not support federal funding for abortions and supports the so-called “partial birth” abortion ban, which outlaws a certain type of late-term abortion procedure.

Doheny’s position on abortion has been a source of discomfort among conservatives in the Republican Party. He missed out on the Conservative Party’s endorsement in 2010 in part because of his support for abortion rights in the first trimester. Since 2010, his position on the matter has become more nuanced. And he earned the Conservative Party’s endorsement in this election.

Michael R. Long, the state Conservative Party chairman, said in announcing his endorsement that he believed Mr. Doheny “will not be trying to promote an agenda for abortion.”

Mr. Doheny now says he would vote “100 percent” with advocacy groups that oppose abortion rights on matters that come up in Congress. Mr. Doheny would support legislation that would, for example, ban federal funding for abortion doctors’ education and the contraceptive pill. He has noted that he’ll have no say in overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1970s Supreme Court decision that guaranteed abortion rights in the United States. Senators approve Supreme Court justices, not members of the House of Representatives. It’s not clear whether he has said Roe v. Wade should be overturned.

His campaign said that he would not be available for an interview on the subject in part because the issues of women’s health and abortion are unrelated to jobs and the economy, the focus of his campaign. But Mr. Doheny has addressed women’s health issues related to contraceptive care.

Earlier this year, President Obama’s administration announced a new regulation that required insurance plans to cover contraceptive care for women. Some organizations affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church believe that exemptions to the rule for Catholic universities and hospitals are too weak.

“Owens is a Catholic, but he’s put his loyalty to Obamacare first by defending the ruling,” Mr. Doheny said in a February news release.

The Obama administration struck a compromise on the regulation, ruling that religious organizations don’t have to pay directly for the contraceptive care — the insurance companies will.

Mr. Owens said the compromise was “reasonable” and argued that a requirement that insurance companies provide contraceptive care will save money because it focuses on preventive care.

“What’s interesting to me is that the insurance companies did not object. Why would they not object? Because they know in the long run it would save them money,” Mr. Owens said.

Mr. Owens’s position on abortion and women’s health issues have won him the support of pro choice advocates, who have donated to his campaign. It also has earned him the scorn of anti-abortion rights advocates, who demonstrated outside of his office in Watertown in 2011.

New York allows women to have abortions until 24 weeks into a pregnancy. Women can have abortions after 24 weeks only if the woman’s life is in danger, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit organization that advocates for expanded abortion rights. Mr. Owens said he supports that law, plus exceptions that would allow abortions in the cases of rape or incest after 24 weeks. And he said he’s “comfortable” with New York’s statutes that don’t require parents to be notified when a minor has an abortion.

Mr. Owens said that the federal government shouldn’t cut funding to Planned Parenthood because of the multitude of other services it provides, such as breast cancer screenings.

“It’s an important part of the primary care structure in our communities, because we don’t have enough primary care doctors,” Mr. Owens said.

He also said he opposes laws that would require women to have ultrasounds before having an abortion, calling it an invasion of privacy.

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