News footage 1970: NY legalizes abortion
The NY Times reports that, Former Democrat Assemblyman George M. Michaels, who cast the deciding vote to liberalize New York’s abortion law in 1970, thereby ending his political career has died.
Michaels favored abortion but voted against the law twice at the behest of the Cayuga County Democratic Committee. He did so at the beginning of April 1970 when the bill went down to a narrow defeat.
But on April 9, he realized that the measure was doomed without his support. He rose to take the microphone, his hands trembling. “I realize, Mr. Speaker, that I am terminating my political career, but I cannot in good conscience sit here and allow my vote to be the one that defeats this bill,” he declared. “I ask that my vote be changed from ‘no’ to ‘yes.‘ “
The deciding vote was cast by Assemblyman, George Michaels who told the LA Times that for years he had been told by local Democrat party leaders not to vote for the repeal of the abortion ban, and he pledged not to. For two years he had followed the party line.
“I would vote no, hoping the bill would pass,” he said. “I was not doing the right thing.”
In April, 1970, the night before he left for Albany, Michaels spent an evening with his daughter-in-law, Sarah.
Sarah asked him what would happen when the abortion bill came up for a vote again. There was a chance it would pass, he told her.
“What if it doesn’t?” she asked.
“Maybe next year,” he said.
Michaels says he has never been able to forget what his son’s young wife told him next:
“In the meantime, thousands of women will be mutilated and die because of that stupid Legislature.”
“Boy, that rocked me,” Michaels says. “That rocked me.”
Michaels returned to Albany still not knowing how he would vote, he says. “I was hoping somebody would switch; that it wouldn’t be George Michaels.”
The vote was taken. Michaels voted against the repeal. Then, just before the clerk announced the vote, he stood up and asked the Speaker to change his vote.
“When it came to a tie vote, I could not go through that charade any longer,” he said. “I knew my career was finished.”
“It wasn’t courageous. There was no courage there at all. I had to win back the respect of my family. I had to win back their respect,” Michaels said.