Commentary: State's flawed abortion law makes women vulnerable
By Donna Lieberman and Katharine Bodde
As the 45th anniversary of Roe v. Wade approaches later this month, the landmark Supreme Court ruling is in serious danger. And so are our rights in New York.
President Donald Trump and the GOP-controlled Senate have stacked the nation's highest court with an anti-Roe majority, and lawsuits are in the pipeline to allow the Supreme Court to overturn Roe. If the ruling is overturned, the right of a pregnant woman to make life-altering decisions will depend on what state she lives in.
Many New Yorkers wrongly assume abortion rights are well protected here in New York.
New York was once at the vanguard of reproductive rights — in 1970, when it became the second state to legalize abortion. But our state law does not meet the constitutional standard of Roe, and New York's abortion law has four critical flaws.
First, while the practice of medicine is generally regulated in the public health and education law, New York regulates abortion in its criminal code. It's time to treat abortion as what it is: health care, not a criminal enterprise.
Second, our state law falls short of the protections of Roe. A woman in New York should be able to get needed care throughout pregnancy. But because of New York's law, women may be forced to bear the serious risks of continuing a non-viable later pregnancy or a later pregnancy that threatens their health.
Third, our abortion law doesn't protect us against an array of onerous, harmful regulations that abortion opponents use to prevent women from accessing safe abortions. There are archaic New York state statues and local ordinances on the books currently superseded by Roe that might be resurrected if Roe is overturned — for example, a medically unjustified and prohibitively expensive requirement that a woman be hospitalized to have an abortion after 12 weeks.
And when New York's law passed in 1970, the practice of medicine was limited to doctors. Almost 50 years later, the medical field has changed dramatically. Yet state law discourages qualified medical professionals, like nurse practitioners and physician assistants, from providing early abortion care — even though it's safer than a shot of penicillin.
Allowing trained medical professionals to provide early abortion care makes it safer and more accessible, especially for low-income women, women of color, and women who live in areas of our state with limited access to medical professionals.
The New York Civil Liberties Union has heard from many women who couldn't get abortion care in New York and whose health was put at risk. They include a woman whose pregnancy was making her cancer worse, and a woman who had to spend $25,000 travelling out of state for an abortion even though her fetus was not viable.
There are countless more stories, and they will become more common unless lawmakers take urgent action.
Living as we do in a political environment where rights we thought were immutable are now suddenly all too vulnerable, the Legislature must move quickly to address the huge flaws in our law and pass the Reproductive Health Act.
New York's laws must ensure that patients — not politicians — are able to make the informed health care decisions that are best for themselves and their families.
We owe it to all New Yorkers, and to women nationwide, to once again be a national leader in abortion access.
In a speech last month outlining his priorities for the first 100 days of this year's state legislative session, Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for passage of the Reproductive Health Act, which has languished for years in the state Senate.
The November historic elections were a mandate for change. With new leadership in Albany, the Reproductive Health Act now has its first real shot.
We need a law that will stand the test of time — one that is unapologetic and up to the task.
Women and their families deserve no less.
This piece originally appeared as an op-ed in the Times Union