Pataki Set to Veto 'Morning After' Bill

New York's Gov. George Pataki confirms he will veto a bill that would make the so-called "morning-after" pill available without a prescription. Abortion-rights advocates in the state are hoping to pressure him into signing the legislation. Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney recently vetoed similar legislation; both men are eyeing possible presidential runs in 2008.

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New York Governor George Pataki is set to veto a bill that would allow pharmacists to sell the so-called morning-after pill over the counter. Pataki recently announced that he will not run for governor again. And his planned veto, like a similar veto by Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, may be a signal of presidential ambitions. NPR's Margot Adler reports.

MARGOT ADLER reporting:

Before Governor Pataki made his decision, abortion rights activists, like NARAL Pro-Choice New York, were about to unveil an ad campaign for New York, New Hampshire and Iowa.

(Soundbite of advertisement)

Unidentified Woman: And Governor Pataki has always supported reproductive choice. So as he considers the Oval Office, he may want to consider this: New Yorkers and Americans value principles over politics.

ADLER: Originally the ads were meant to pressure the governor to sign the bill. Supporters say the drug, which prevents pregnancy after sex, should be available without women having to go to the doctor first. But Pataki said the bill is flawed.

Governor GEORGE PATAKI (New York): What particularly concerns me is that we would allow a prescription drug, a powerful prescription drug, to be available to children without any medical oversight at all.

ADLER: Seven states have passed similar legislation, and the FDA is set to make a new pronouncement on the morning-after pill by the beginning of September. Kelli Conlin is president of NARAL Pro-Choice New York.

Ms. KELLI CONLIN (President, NARAL Pro-Choice New York): This is a man for 11 years who has defined himself as pro-choice, who has done repeatedly the right thing. And we feel that it's our responsibility to let New Yorkers know and to let Americans know that this is not a person to be trusted. You don't start a presidential campaign with a flip-flop on a major issue that's important to American citizens.

ADLER: Pataki has been under pressure by both pro-life and pro-choice groups. In June, he received a letter from the chairman of the state's Conservative Party saying, `To allow a teen-ager to purchase the morning-after pill in the same manner as you would purchase cough drops or bubble gum is the biggest injustice one can do to our daughters and granddaughters.'

If Pataki was concerned with teens getting the pill, the issue for Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who vetoed a similar measure last week, was his view that the morning-after pill could prevent an embryo from being implanted in the womb.

Governor MITT ROMNEY (Republican, Massachusetts): If it only dealt with contraception, I wouldn't have a problem with it. But it also, in some cases, terminates the life after conception, and therefore it ceases in that case to be a contraceptive provision or a contraceptive bill. It becomes an abortion bill.

ADLER: But Donna Williams, executive director of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists for New York state, said today that the morning-after pill does not cause abortion but inhibits ovulation and impairs the migration of sperm.

Ms. DONNA WILLIAMS (Executive Director, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, New York): If this bill were to be judged on its merits, emergency contraception is a safe and effective way to prevent unwanted pregnancies. And, unfortunately, we are seeing a repeat of what's being done at the federal level, and that's the politization of women's health care.

ADLER: John Green, a political scientist at the University of Akron, says Governor Romney and Governor Pataki can both gain political capital with Republicans by vetoing this kind of legislation. But they don't lose political capital with pro-choice Republicans because abortion is still available. In states like New York and Massachusetts, he says...

Mr. JOHN GREEN (University of Akron): To appeal even to Republicans, it requires a tack to the left on social issues, to become more supportive of things like the availability of abortion and other drugs. On the other hand, if one's going to run for the presidency with a national Republican constituency, one then needs to tack to the right, to become more pro-life on these type of issues.

ADLER: Green says we should see many more people adjusting their position on issues like late-term abortion and the morning-after pill as the presidential race heats up and using these issues in different ways to gain political advantage. Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.

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