On the 46th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, New York State enacted new, strong legal protections for abortion rights, signed by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo last month. The Reproductive Health Act (RHA) replaces the previous state abortion law, passed in 1970 just three years before Roe legalized abortion nationwide.
According to the Associated Press, the law safeguards rights laid out in Roe v. Wade and other court rulings, and also includes provisions permitting abortions within the first 24 weeks of pregnancy and late-term abortions if the fetus isn’t viable or at any time if patient’s life or health is at risk. The state’s previous law only permitted late-term abortions in the case that the pregnancy put the woman’s life at risk.
Ulster Activist (U-Act) Representative Ellen Rocco said, “I think it’s a woman’s right to choose.”
According to Planned Parenthood, nearly 99 percent of abortions in the U.S. occur before 21 weeks. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that 91.1 percent occur in the first trimester and 7.6 percent in the second. Only 1.4 percent of women in the U.S. have abortions after week 20 of their pregnancy, and even fewer in the third trimester.
According to the New York State Department of Health, 285,127 induced abortions occurred in the state between 2012 and 2014 and the average number of live births for the same three years was 237,499.
The updated law moves abortions to the health statutes of state law rather than the penal code. It also authorizes Advanced Practice Clinicians such as some midwives, nurse practitioners and physicians assistants to perform abortions in addition to doctors.
“I found it appalling that they were in the penal code,” Rocco said. “This is a medical procedure, what other medical procedure is in the criminal code?”
Those opposed to the bill have argued that pregnant women will have trouble prosecuting their assaulters in the event that an attack results in the loss of a fetus, but these arguments have been largely debunked.
“I don’t think it makes any difference,” Rocco said. “I think there will always be women who are treated unfairly and there will be men who are treated unfairly. I don’t think this change does anything to change that.”
The passage of this law comes partly as a reaction to the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in October. Pro-life voters hope Kavanaugh will provide the fifth vote on a court decision to overturn or weaken Roe v. Wade. The Center for Reproductive Rights warned that if Roe v. Wade is overturned, 22 states are likely to ban abortion outright.
According to the Associated Press, nine other states including California, Washington and Oregon have also put protections for abortion rights in their state statutes to ensure abortion access remains in place if the Supreme Court does reverse or weaken the 1973 decision. In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom committed to investing $100 million for reproductive healthcare.
In response to the State of the Union address, Planned Parenthood Mid-Hudson Valley President and CEO Ruth-Ellen Blodgett released a statement clarifying that there is no such thing as abortion during labor and delivery.
“Planned Parenthood of Mid-Hudson Valley stands behind patients and families who face heart-wrenching pregnancy complications and will always advocate for safe, legal abortion,” she said.
In addition to the RHA, the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act (CCCA) and the Boss Act have also passed and Cuomo is expected to sign both into law.
“I think as long as the CCCA is passed that closes an enormous loophole,” Rocco said. “As a society we don’t want people to need abortions, we want people to not need abortions, so that number of these decisions don’t have to be made.”
According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, the CCCA will ensure timely and affordable access to contraception by requiring insurers to cover contraception that is right for the individual patient without a co-payment, and allow for access to a year’s supply of contraception. It will also improve timely and affordable access for women in need of emergency contraception.
The Boss Act, if signed, would limit what employers can do, and update New York’s existing workplace anti-discrimination laws to prohibit an employer from discriminating against an employee on the basis of their reproductive health-care decisions.