ALBANY — A freshman state lawmaker likened abortion to “African-American genocide,” spurring a lengthy, heated debate Tuesday on the Assembly floor and leading some of his Democratic colleagues to walk out in protest.
The remark from Assemblyman Ronald Castorina, R-Staten Island, riled the Assembly chamber, angering Democrats and black lawmakers, who repeatedly tried to interrupt Castorina as he tried to continue his speech.
The comment came as the Assembly debated a bill that would formally install federal abortion rights into state law.
Castorina’s comment came as he recited statistics about the race of those seeking abortions. He did not cite a source for the statistics, but they appear nearly word for word on an anti-abortion website named BlackGenocide.com.
“I urge my friends and colleagues in the African-American community to be very, very careful about this legislation, because we’re talking about African-American genocide,” Castorina said.
Audible jeers and shocked gasps could be heard on the Assembly’s live feed of the proceedings.
Castorina nodded his head.
“You hear me?” Castorina said in response. “But for Roe v. Wade, the African-American community would be 36 percent larger today.”
Assembly Democrats then staged a parliamentary protest, with lawmaker after lawmaker rising to ask Castorina to yield his time, as is allowed by Assembly rules. Each time, Castorina declined, but the repeated queries delayed his ability to speak.
“Respectfully, no,” Castorina said repeatedly when asked to yield.
Eventually, some Democrats left the chamber as Castorina began to speak again. Later during the debate, Assemblyman Charles Barron, D-Brooklyn, told GOP Assemblyman Al Graf to “shut up” after Graf suggested Barron “sit down.”
Assemblywoman Diana Richardson, D-Brooklyn, said she was offended as both an African-American and a woman.
“I just hope that in the future when we have such conversations that respect is shown to everyone in this chamber,” Richardson said during the debate. “I had to literally walk outside of the chamber just so I could compose myself.”
The speech was one of Castorina’s first — if not the first — on the Assembly floor after he was elected in April. Earlier during his remarks, Assemblyman Jeff Aubry — who was acting as speaker — referred to the speech as Castorina’s “maiden voyage.”
After a lengthy debate, the bill ultimately passed by an 88-44 vote. It’s not likely to receive a vote in the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans.