ALBANY, N.Y. -- Governor George E. 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.
Conservatives lauded the decision as ''a plus for parents."
Pataki disclosed his plans Sunday night through a 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 a fellow Republican governor, Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, who also is considering a White House campaign. Pataki announced last week that he would not seek reelection to a fourth term next year; the decision was widely seen as a prelude to a possible run for national office.
Before the plan was announced, Pataki's aides heard that the New York chapter of the National Abortion Rights Action League was preparing to air commercials in New York, Iowa, and New Hampshire. The latter two states are the first battlegrounds for presidential candidates.
The advertisements stress Pataki's past support for reproductive rights, and they 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 Family Planning Advocates of New York State.
''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. ''It's obviously a flip-flop on his part."
Conlin argued 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 yesterday that the big difference was the need for 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," Quinn said.
Republicans have said that Pataki's biggest hurdle, if he seeks national office, will probably be his support for abortion and gay rights as well as strict gun-control legislation.
Pataki has been under pressure from abortion-rights supporters to approve the morning-after pill; antiabortion 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 prescription -- and without parental consent regardless of the patient's age.
The legislation is expected to be sent to the governor this week by the Democratic-controlled state Assembly. The governor has 10 days to sign or veto it. The measure was approved by the Republican-led state Senate on June 22.