Testimony of Katharine Bodde on behalf of the New York Civil Liberties Union before the New York City Council Committee on Women’s Issues regarding Proposed Resolution Calling on the United States Congress to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act

Good afternoon. My name is Katharine Bodde and I am a Policy Counsel with the New York Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Rights Program. I would like to thank the Committee on Women’s Issues for inviting us to provide testimony today in support of this proposed resolution calling upon the Unites States Congress to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act.

The New York Civil Liberties Union (“NYCLU”), the state affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, is a not-for-profit, nonpartisan organization with eight offices across the state, and nearly 50,000 members. The NYCLU’s mission is to defend and promote the fundamental principles, rights and constitutional values embodied in the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution of the State of New York. This includes the rights to privacy, personal autonomy, and equal opportunities that are the foundation of reproductive freedom. The NYCLU strongly supports the proposed resolution calling upon Congress to ensure that all women have access to abortion care by passing the Women’s Health Protection Act.

Decided in 1973, Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973) establishes a fundamental right to choose abortion rooted in the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of personal liberty. 410 U.S. at 153. The significance of Roe cannot be overstated. The right to decide when, whether, and how to have and parent a child is the cornerstone of women’s equality, autonomy, and dignity. This right impacts every aspects of a woman’s life – her economic status, educational aspirations, career goals, personal health, as well as the health of her family. As Justice Ginsburg writes, the fundamental right to choose an abortion “center[s] on a woman’s autonomy to determine her life’s course and thus to enjoy equal citizenship status.” Gonzales v. Carhart, 550 U.S. 124, 172 (2007) (Ginsburg, J., dissenting).

While the importance of Roe to women’s lives looms large, the promise of Roe has become a fiction for far too many women across our country. While Roe both prohibits states from interfering with a woman’s decision to terminate a pregnancy prior to viability and considers the life and health of the woman paramount, an astounding number of restrictions have passed that seek to burden women’s ability to access abortion. And these restrictions are felt most acutely by women in communities that already face political, economic, and social inequalities. States enacted 230 abortion restrictions between 2011 and 2014, more than in the entire previous decade combined. Among these, states have banned pre-viability abortion care, prohibited coverage in the states’ health-insurance exchanges, and placed burdensome and unnecessary requirements on reproductive health care facilities. And these attacks are far from over.

On the eve of the 42nd anniversary of Roe, we should not only commemorate Roe’s promise of women’s autonomy and equality, we should use it as a rallying cry to push back against restrictions that seek to eliminate access to abortion. On the federal level, the Women’s Health Protection Act would prohibit States from passing restrictions that target access to abortion and do not advance women’s health. Congress must stand up for women and pass the Women’s Health Protection Act.

On the state level, New York must recapture its position as a leader for reproductive freedom. New York law does not adequately protect the right to seek abortion and ultimately prevents health care providers from offering the best reproductive health care possible. Our law continues to regulate abortion in the criminal code and, despite constitutional safeguards, does not allow a woman to get an abortion if her health is at risk or in the circumstance when a fetus will not survive. Further, New York law deters qualified, licensed medical professionals from providing abortion care that is within their training and expertise, unnecessarily restricting the number of providers available to women throughout the state, and in particular, to communities that already have significant barriers to accessing the health care system. Despite overwhelming support for changing the law, opponents have misconstrued the facts and legislators in Albany have been unable to move past partisan divides to reform New York’s abortion law. The NYCLU urges our state legislature to reject partisan politics and reform our outdated abortion law to ensure all women in New York State have meaningful access to abortion.

The NYCLU is grateful for the New York City Council’s steadfast support of reproductive freedom. It is this continuing support and leadership that will ensure that women’s equal opportunities and access to abortion care are not things of the past, but part and parcel of our future and our fundamental liberties. Thank you.