updated 8/1/2005 2:12:38 PM ET 2005-08-01T18:12:38

Gov. George Pataki plans to veto legislation that would allow women to buy the “morning-after” pill without a prescription, a decision described by abortion rights advocates as “sheer political expediency” to build conservative support for a 2008 presidential run.

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Conservatives lauded the decision Monday as “a plus for parents.”

Pataki disclosed his plans Sunday night through spokesman Kevin Quinn, who said the governor’s primary objection was that the bill “provides no protection whatsoever for minors.”

“If this and other flaws in the bill are addressed, and a responsible version of the bill is advanced, the governor would support it,” Quinn said.

Similar legislation was vetoed last week by fellow Republican Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, who also is eyeing a White House bid. Pataki announced last week he would not seek re-election to a fourth term next year, a move widely seen as a prelude to a possible run for national office.

Word of the veto plan came after Pataki’s aides learned the New York chapter of the National Abortion Rights Action League was preparing to air television commercials in New York as well as Iowa and New Hampshire, traditional sites of the first presidential nominating contests. The ads stress Pataki’s past support for reproductive rights and urge the governor not to veto the measure.

“It is distressing that politics appears to have won out over women’s health,” said JoAnn Smith, head of the Family Planning Advocates of New York State.

Political expediency or protection of minors?
“It’s unfortunate that as he looks to run for president he would toss away his principled legacy for sheer political expediency,” said Kelli Conlin, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice New York, after being told of the governor’s veto plan. “It’s obviously a flip-flop on his part.”

Conlin noted that Pataki was the first governor to extend Medicaid coverage to the RU-486 abortion pill. “He made no cutoff for age whatsoever,” he said.

Quinn said Monday the big difference was the need for a doctor’s visit and a prescription for RU-486.

“The governor has consistently supported measures to protect minors and ensure that they receive appropriate and responsible individual medical care,” the Pataki aide said.

Republican strategists have said Pataki’s biggest hurdle if he seeks national office will likely be his past support, as governor, for abortion and gay rights as well as strict gun-control legislation.

Under pressure
Pataki has been under pressure from abortion rights supporters to approve the “morning-after pill” legislation while anti-abortion groups, including New York’s Roman Catholic bishops and the Pataki-allied state Conservative Party, have been just as vocal in their opposition.

The measure would allow girls and women to obtain the medication — intended to prevent pregnancy by ensuring that an egg does not become fertilized — without a physician’s visit or prescription and without parental consent regardless of the patient’s age.

State Conservative Party Chairman Michael Long said he was pleased with the governor’s decision.

“It’s a plus for parents, people who are responsible for and want to be involved and have a say in their kid’s lives,” said Long, a Pataki ally. “It’s the responsibility of government to protect people who are teenagers and may not know better and get wrong signals sent to them.”

Long said the legislation sends a message to teenagers “that all they have to do is do whatever they feel like they want to do at the moment, and then take a pill to get rid of the problem they created.”

The legislation was expected to be sent to the governor this week by the Democratic-controlled state Assembly where it originated. The governor then has 10 days to sign or veto it. The measure was approved by the Republican-led state Senate on June 22 in a move that caught many opponents by surprise.

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