The retirement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy is likely to set off a renewed and heightened debate over a long-stalled bill in the state Senate that would strengthen abortion rights in New York.

“It is absolutely critical at this time that we amend our antiquated laws in New York State and protect a woman's right to choose,” said Jen Metzger, (D) Senate candidate.

The bill is known as the Reproductive Health Act. The measure would shift language for abortions from the state’s penal code to the public health law, change abortion’s status as an exception to homicide and allow abortions in the third trimester of a pregnancy under certain circumstances.

On Thursday, four Democratic women running for the state Senate called for the bill's approval after it became part of a fight over hostile amendments in the narrowly divided chamber.

“That would have helped us a great deal, but that was tabled, it wasn't done, it was blocked,” said Joyce St. George, (D) Senate candidate.

And the abortion issue could have a statewide impact. Republican gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro this month compared his stance on abortion to Gov. Mario Cuomo's, but said he opposed the Reproductive Health Act.

“I do not believe in the expansion to late term abortion. I'm running to be governor of all the people of the state of New York. Like his father, I have a personal belief, but I also believe it's settled law,” said Molinaro.

Molinaro says he would support adding resources pre and post-natal care for women.

“That's what I want to be about: ensure that women who are in dealing with difficult choices, have the tools and resources to make those decisions,” he said.

But issues surrounding abortion and reproductive rights will take on new urgency with Kennedy's retirement. Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week said he wants to see a new justice on the court after the election, not before.

“They shouldn't confirm any justice until after the election and let's see what the people of this country say in the election. And if the Republicans balk, say ‘this is exactly your rational when you wouldn't confirm a justice for President Obama,’” said Cuomo.

In a statement, Cuomo said he would do everything in his power to bolster reproductive rights and urged the passage of the bill.