While states across America push to restrict women’s reproductive rights, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is trying to move his state the other direction. Cuomo is reportedly putting the finishing touches on a new Reproductive Health Act, which would ensure a woman’s right to a late-term abortion if her health is at risk or the fetus is non-viable.
The new legislation would be in keeping with the governor’s promises at his recent State of the State address, in which he outlined a ten-part Women’s Equality Act to expand women’s rights and strengthen anti-discrimination statutes. “Maybe it’s a man’s world, but it is not a man’s world in New York. Not anymore,” Cuomo said.
Though the late-term abortion provision is only one aspect of the Women’s Equality Act, it stands as the most visible and controversial element. Current New York law allows late-term abortions (after 24 weeks) only if the mother’s life is at risk. This limitation is not enforced, however, as superseding federal rulings permit late-term abortions to protect a woman’s health as well as her life. Cuomo’s bill would bring state law in line with federal, preventing confusion which abortion rights advocates say drives some New York women out of the state for the procedure.
The Reproductive Health Act would also allow licensed health care practitioners, not just physicians, to preform abortions, and it would remove abortion from the penal code to regulate it through the state’s health law.
Specifics of the proposal have not yet been released, and Cuomo has emphasized that the Women’s Equality Act should be thought of as a whole. He asked reporters Sunday not to refer to the element dealing with abortion as the “Reproductive Health Act,” fearing it could be likened to previous proposals of the same name–like that of his predecessor, Eliot Spitzer, in 2006. “This is going to be a separate position,” Cuomo said, “and all this position does is codify the federal law. I can’t say it enough.”
After The New York Times reported on the yet-to-be-proposed bill Friday, a wave of criticism from pro-life advocates has swarmed the conversation. Opponents have dubbed it the “Abortion Expansion Act.”
“Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s re-packaging of an extreme abortion bill into a so-called ‘women’s agenda’ is a desperate attempt to push through an abortion expansion that’s been around for six years and has failed to gain traction as a stand-alone bill,” wrote Kathleen M. Gallagher, director of pro-life activities for the New York State Catholic Conference. “Make no mistake, this bill, first championed by Eliot Spitzer, is radical and far out of the mainstream, even by the standards of New York, a state with an abortion rate twice the national average.”
After hearing Cuomo’s plan in January’s State of the State address, Archbishop of New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan expressed his regret in a public letter to the governor:
“We obviously disagree on the question of the legality of abortion, but surely we are in equally strong agreement that the abortion rate in New York is tragically high. There was a time when abortion supporters claimed they wanted to make abortion ‘safe, legal, and rare.’ Yet this measure is specifically designed to expand access to abortion, and therefore to increase the abortion rate. I am hard pressed to think of a piece of legislation that is less needed or more harmful than this one.”
Despite criticism, Cuomo says he will move forward with the Women’s Equality Act, all ten points intact.
The bill’s chances of passage appear to be split. In the General Assembly, Democrats hold power and have been in favor of bolstering reproductive rights. In the Republican-controlled State Senate, the opposite is true.
“You could have an abortion up until the day the child would be born, and I think that’s just wrong,” said leader of the Senate Republicans, Dean Skelos.
The Reproductive Health Act seems to aim, at heart, toward safeguarding New York women’s abortion rights against future changes on the federal level. New York would be the last of only eight states to pass a protection like this. It will be an immense feat if Cuomo can pull it off–as it’s become increasingly clear, the trend has largely been going in the other direction.