By Linda Berns — The Feb. 21 Community View by Alan P. Mehldau, "Proposed law would increase number of abortions in N.Y.," is both misguided and factually incorrect. Gov. Eliot Spitzer's proposed legislation, the Reproductive Health and Privacy Protection Act, would modernize our laws and ensure our rights are protected. The bill guarantees women's ability to make their own decisions about whether and when to become pregnant and whether and when to have children. It also ensures that when it comes to state regulation of abortion, women's health will always be the paramount concern.

Abortion has been legal in our state since 1970, three years before the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe vs. Wade made it legal nationwide. Although our law was groundbreaking at the time, it has not kept pace with changes in policy and medicine. As a result, it is now out of date and needs to be strengthened.

Most New Yorkers would find it shocking to learn that family planning and abortion are still treated as crimes in our statute books. The Reproductive Health Act takes abortion out of the penal code, and regulates it as a matter of public health and medical practice. Doctors should not have to fear prosecution because of the type of medicine they practice.

Contrary to Mr. Mehldau, the act would not make any changes to current practice in New York. For example, the Act would not force hospitals or insurance plans to provide or cover abortion services. New York law already provides appropriate protection for providers who object to abortion for moral or religious reasons, and this bill does nothing to change that. Nor would it prohibit regulation of abortion - in fact, it explicitly states that generally applicable regulations for purposes of protecting health and safety would still apply.

Additionally, the bill contains important protections for health and safety. The law allows only licensed, qualified health-care providers - providers who have been appropriately trained and are operating within their scope of practice - to provide abortion services. The bill also requires later abortion procedures to be performed in facilities that are strictly regulated by the state Health Department.

With respect to post-viability abortions, the act merely codifies the requirements of Roe v. Wade. The vast majority of abortions are performed in the first trimester of pregnancy. The bill allows abortions past the point of fetal viability only in the very small number of cases where a woman's health or life is at risk, or when the fetus has a fatal medical condition and would not survive birth. The act ensures that women faced with such difficult and painful circumstances will continue to have safe, legal options available.

Mr. Mehldau's reliance on long-discredited scare tactics and junk science, like the fictitious link between abortion and breast cancer and the supposed dangers of abortion, makes it clear that his argument is not with the substance of the proposed legislation, but rather with the legality of abortion itself. Abortion is one of the safest medical procedures available. Since abortion became legal, maternal morbidity and mortality rates decreased drastically. In fact, recent studies show that the rate of abortions is actually higher in countries where it is illegal or severely restricted as where it is legal. The only difference is the impact on women's health and lives.

Like the majority of New Yorkers, we believe that our goal should be to increase women's access to health care and their ability to make safe, informed decisions for themselves and their families, without government interference.

We applaud the legislators, including state Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, who have demonstrated their leadership and commitment to women's health by sponsoring this bill. The Legislature should act immediately to ensure that women's health is protected - for us, our sisters, our daughters and for future generations.

Linda Berns is director of the Lower Hudson Valley Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union. This article was also signed by Catherine Lederer-Plaskett, president WCLA - Choice Matters; and Reina S. Schiffrin, president/CEO, Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic Inc.