From now until Election Day, The Brian Lehrer Show is hosting a series called “30 Issues in 30 Days.” The idea is to dive deep on one issue a day to give voters a sense of what candidates are saying about the policies that affect their lives. The next issue up: New York's incomplete abortion laws.
In 1970 New York stunned the country by legalizing abortion. It was only the second state to do so (Hawaii was first but New York’s law went further, with no residency requirement). What seemed like a massively progressive move at the time was enacted through a legal technicality—and that resulted in limitations in the law today that New York Democrats and pro-choice proponents say could potentially jeopardize a woman's right to an abortion.
Under current New York law, women can’t get abortions after 24 weeks unless their life is in danger. If they do, their doctors could face up to seven years in prison. Federal laws are more progressive—for now. Legal experts say that President Donald Trump's next pick for the Supreme Court (whoever that is) would likely side with a 5-4 majority to repeal the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, leaving New York's punitive laws in place.
Since 2007, lawmakers have been working to pass legislation—called The Reproductive Health Act (RHA)—that would change New York’s abortion laws so they’re in step with current Federal law. The RHA could be in play this year, if New Yorkers vote to flip the State Senate to Democrats. Here’s what you need to know:
The RHA would expand the reasons a woman would be allowed to get an abortion after 24 weeks. With the RHA in place, a women could get a late term abortion if she was facing non-life threatening risks, or if the fetus was not viable. These exceptions already exist under federal law—that’s why people say the RHA is just “codifying Roe v Wade into state law.”
The legislation would also decriminalize abortion by moving abortion statutes out of state penal law and into health law, and expand the types of medical professionals allowed to perform abortions to include nurse practitioners and physician assistants
How It Figures In The November Election
The Reproductive Health Act was passed the State Assembly on January 17, but was subsequently blocked by Republicans who control the Senate with a razor thin majority. The vote came down to 32 to 31. One Democrat voted to oppose the measure—Simcha Felder.
If the Senate flips, the RHA’s sponsor, Senator Liz Krueger, is confident the bill will among the earliest the Senate will take up and pass. “Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who is the lead co-sponsor on the bill, will want to make her mark as the first ever woman majority leader in the Senate and deliver on this promise to New York's women and families," Krueger told WNYC.
The Case For The RHA
“We need to help women make decisions for themselves," Anna Kaplan, a Democrat running against Republican State Senator Elaine Phillips in the 40th district, said Wednesday on The Brian Lehrer Show. "This is not about aborting a fetus that is far along. This is about giving a woman the right to have an abortion if she knows the pregnancy is non-viable, or that her health is in danger. It’s basically codifying Roe and allowing this to come out of the criminal code in New York State.”
The Case Against It
Some Republicans, who identify as pro-choice, are against the bill anyway. Senator Phillips says she is pro-choice and “wholeheartedly” supports Roe v. Wade, but that the proposed bill “goes too far,” which is why she voted against the RHA.
The Republican candidate for Governor, Marc Molinaro, said he was concerned about the provision in the bill that allowed for non-doctors to perform abortions. Advocates for the bill, however, including its sponsor Krueger, told WNYC that non-doctors would only be able to perform non-surgical abortions (administer the abortion pill).
From a pro-life perspective, the RHA escalates an already pernicious problem. Michele Sterlace-Accorsi, executive director of Feminists Choosing Life of New York, points out that New York has among the highest rate of abortion in the country. She says we “need to work to de-escalate the astronomically high rate of abortion in the state” and that the RHA “completely disregards unborn human life.”