With story after story of Republicans in state after state pushing through laws designed to severely restrict or eliminate altogether a woman’s ability to access abortion care it is great to hear efforts like the one underway in New York to do just the opposite.
The Reproductive Health Act (RHA) would guarantee that, under New York law, every woman would have the right to access abortion and family planning services and is designed to protect a woman’s right to control whether or not she uses contraception, has a child or terminates a pregnancy irrespective of anything passed by Congress or any action taken by the courts. The law is designed to “update” state health policy in ways that effectively place that policy in lines with the dictates of Roe v. Wade. For example, the RHA would extend the right of a woman to get a late-term abortion if continuing the pregnancy puts her life or health at risk. Under current law a woman in New York can only access a late-term abortion should continuing the pregnancy likely kill her.
Another significant feature of the RHA is the fact that it removes abortion from the penal code meaning the procedure would remain decriminalized even if the Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade or Congress passed federal personhood legislation. Also, New York is currently the only state that still treats a late-term abortion as a homicide. The RHA would change that and provide much needed clarity under the law.
Because New York criminalizes abortions after the 24th week of pregnancy, unless a woman’s life is at risk, but does not provide the same, constitutionally required exception when a woman’s health is at risk passing the RHA would help protect doctors as well. Because New York law is unclear, many doctors fear that they risk criminal prosecution if they provide abortion care to a woman whose health is endangered later in a pregnancy. As a result, many health care providers are deterred from providing the best care to their patients, and some women are forced to leave the state to get the health care they need.
Women across the country have had enough of the attacks on their reproductive rights. We saw it in the 2012 election and we are starting to see it in state-level responses as well. Should the RHA pass, New York would be one of the only states to proactively protect women’s health and reproductive rights. Doing so would send a powerful and necessary message beyond the state’s borders and across the country that women and their doctors must be able and trusted to make personal health care decisions that are best for themselves and their families. It’s common sense that is sadly missing in so many state houses across this country.