Andrew Cuomo: States, use your power to protect women's rights

Story highlights

  • Andrew Cuomo: Many women are concerned about threat to rights in new political era
  • Governors, legislatures have duty to protect reproductive rights, close wage gap, he says

Andrew Cuomo is the 56th governor of New York. He is a Democrat. The views expressed in this commentary are his own.

(CNN)Earlier this month, I delivered my State of the State address for 2017. This annual message is an opportunity for the governor to lay out his initiatives, priorities and goals to meet the needs of New Yorkers for the coming year. There is rarely a clear consensus on every initiative. But on the issue of women's rights, almost all New Yorkers agree: Equality for women -- true equality -- shouldn't simply be a goal for 2017. It must be a right.

New York has a history of advancing equal rights, dating back to the birth of the women's rights movement in Seneca Falls in 1848. Today, we honor the sacrifice of these women by vowing to make New York a national model of equality for women.
Andrew Cuomo
We are entering a new political era in which women across the country may feel that their reproductive rights will be threatened, and all states -- not just New York -- will have an opportunity to take the lead in improving the status of women through their respective legislatures.
    As we are doing in New York, governors and state legislatures now have the opportunity and the duty, through executive orders and legislation, to protect reproductive rights, close the wage gap and combat sexual violence.
    Thousands of women are gathered to march in New York, Washington, Chicago and elsewhere; state legislatures can act knowing they have the support of their female constituents who are demanding equality now.
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    In my home state, we put forward our "New York Promise to Women: Ever Upward." To honor this agenda, we must guarantee women all the rights given to men, and we must create the conditions for women to be able to participate in a workforce historically dominated by men.
    As the father of three college-aged daughters, I know that when my girls enter the workforce, they deserve to be paid equally based on their abilities, and they deserve a workplace environment free of sexual harassment. They also deserve the right to control their health and reproductive decisions and to receive paid family leave when they have children.
    This week, we are taking regulatory action to secure the reproductive rights of women in New York state no matter what happens at the federal level. With these new regulations, the state will ensure that contraceptive drugs and devices are covered by commercial health insurance policies without co-pays, coinsurance or deductibles; that contraceptives are available in amounts exceeding one month's supply at a time; and that all medically necessary abortion services are covered by commercial health insurance policies without co-pays, coinsurance or deductibles.
    It is vital that New York stands with women and takes action to guarantee access to reproductive health care, but we must also protect and advance previous victories on workplace equality, against sexual assault and ending discrimination against women across the board.
    As such, this month, I signed two executive orders that will assist New York in eliminating the gender wage gap by prohibiting all state entities from evaluating candidates based on their prior salary or asking prospective employees their wage history as well as requiring state contractors to disclose data on the gender, race and ethnicity of employees -- leveraging taxpayer dollars to drive transparency and advance pay equity statewide. These measures will ensure that women's previous salaries will not affect their access to higher wages.
    Last year we struck at the heart of two economic issues that disproportionately affect women -- raising the minimum wage to $15 and creating the nation's most comprehensive paid family leave law. Employees are now eligible for 12 weeks to care for an infant or loved one.
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    And, in 2015, we enacted the Women's Equality Act, a package of nine laws that makes it harder to discriminate against women when it comes to wages, hiring, promotions or housing while cracking down on sexual harassment in the workplace, domestic violence and human trafficking.
    Also in 2015, we passed the "Enough is Enough" legislation, the nation's strongest measures to combat the epidemic of sexual assaults at our college and university campuses.
    Since I took office six years ago, we have worked tirelessly to pass laws that mandate equal rights for women. And while the regulations we've announced and the legislation we've signed into law is significant, it is not enough. It is time for states to use the legal powers they have to protect the rights of all their constituents, including the many women marching Saturday for equality.