September 11, 2009

The State Senate early today passed legislation that enhances penalties for those who attack reproductive health care providers. The New York Civil Liberties Union called on senators to further demonstrate their commitment to reproductive freedom by passing the Reproductive Health Act, a bill that would strengthen and modernize New York’s abortion laws.

The bill approved today was in response to the murder of Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider from Wichita, Kan., who was shot to death in May while attending church. The bill, which passed the State Assembly in June, was sponsored by Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, whose district includes parts of Buffalo where Dr. Barnett Slepian was murdered in his home in 1998 by an anti-abortion extremist.

“Those who attack health care providers should be prosecuted, and there are currently criminal laws in place that address that kind of senseless violence,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said. “If legislators want to honor Dr. Tiller and Dr. Slepian, passing the Reproductive Health Act should be their top priority when the Senate reconvenes in January.”

New York law still treats abortion as a crime and does not affirmatively guarantee women’s right to make private reproductive health care decisions. New Yorkers rely on the Roe v. Wade decision to guarantee that right, which leaves it vulnerable to further erosion by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Reproductive Health Act would guarantee a woman’s right to control her reproductive health, treat the regulation of abortion as an issue of public health rather than as a potential crime, and ensure that if continuing a pregnancy jeopardizes a woman’s health, she has safe, legal options.

“The Reproductive Health Act is about preserving privacy, autonomy and dignity,” said Corinne Carey, interim director of the NYCLU’s Reproductive Rights Project. “Those are values that Dr. Tiller and Dr. Slepian gave their lives to protect.”