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Column: Keeping New York a Beacon for Choice (New York Metro)

By Donna Lieberman — Imagine you’re having open heart surgery. Imagine you need a blood transfusion to improve your chances of survival.

Now imagine that your doctor is prohibited from giving you that transfusion — under threat of criminal prosecution – because blood transfusions violate some people’s religious principles.

It can’t happen here, you say? People can make their own medical decisions based on their own religious beliefs, but they can’t impose their beliefs on you?

But it has happened here. Just take a look at the Supreme Court’s decision last week to uphold the federal ban on certain medically approved abortion procedures — even though they are sometimes the safest option available for women who need abortions.

The decision was a major setback — not just for women and for those who consider themselves “pro-choice,” but for all Americans who believe medical decisions should be made by patients and their doctors, not by politicians.

Roe v. Wade remains the law of the land — at least for now. New Yorkers should know that even after this ruling, abortion remains safe, legal and available, and doctors will be able to continue providing abortion services in compliance with the law. But the newly constituted Supreme Court has signaled that it’s willing to overturn Roe. It has already eviscerated one of Roe’s core principles: that women’s health must always come first.

Still, there’s hope.

The day after the decision, Congressional Democrats introduced the Freedom of Choice Act, which would strengthen the protections put in place by Roe. If reproductive rights advocates can build up enough support for this bill to override an inevitable veto by President Bush, it will help protect against further erosion of the right to choose.

And women’s health advocates have been working on a proposal for a new New York State law that would make sure that our state remains a beacon for reproductive freedom. Governor Eliot Spitzer has submitted the bill to be introduced in the State Legislature.

That bill, the Reproductive Health and Privacy Protection Act, would modernize New York’s out-of-date laws and protect the rights of all New Yorkers to make reproductive decisions on their own. It would protect not only the right to end a pregnancy but also the right to bear a child, the right to use or refuse birth control, and the right to keep reproductive decisions private. And it would make sure women’s health doesn’t take a back seat to politics.

The Governor has New York’s major reproductive rights advocates on his side. A broad coalition of groups is supporting the legislation. Now these advocates will start working to help get it passed.

Ours was one of the first three states to make abortion legal. It did so in 1970, three years before Roe v. Wade was decided. Now it’s time for New York to show once again that we are in the forefront of the struggle for women’s right to control their reproductive destinies.

As bold as the spirit of New York, we are the NYCLU.
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Civil Liberties Union